PM’s aide wants Covid-19 patients not to be treated like criminals

Updated 01 Apr 2020

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KARACHI: Workers stitch face masks at a factory on Tuesday during the lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.—AFP
KARACHI: Workers stitch face masks at a factory on Tuesday during the lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: While the tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surged to 2,007 with at least 26 deaths across the country, the government on Tuesday took strict notice of complaints that district administrations and police were treating the patients like criminals.

The government also decided to devise a guideline to make industries and shops operational to support the economy and prevent massive violation of lockdown due to hunger and unavailability of resources. Besides, it claimed that the country by mid-April would achieve the capacity to conduct 900,000 tests.

The decision to devise some mechanism to support the country’s economy while preventing the spread of the virus was taken at a meeting held at the National Command Centre of Covid-19. At the meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was decided Lt Gen Mehmood-uz-Zaman would head the National Command Centre, said Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar while addressing a press conference.

The minister was accompanied by federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza.

The minister for special initiatives told the media that the government could not afford to freeze the economy. “There is a possibility that the disease spreads with such a pace that people would be left with no resources or they would not get edible items due to a complete lockdown. We don’t want casualties from the spread of virus, but at the same time we don’t want to push people to an extent where they leave their houses due to hunger,” he said.

At the meeting, he said, it was decided to create a balance between preventing the spread of the virus and smooth running of the economy.

He then gave the example of India where the lockdown was announced without any planning with the result that thousands of people thronged railway stations and other public places in a bid to return to their native areas.

Mr Umar told the media that the meeting discussed how to utilise the Rs50 billion fund allocated for utility stores.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said to provide relief to the masses, the government had reduced petroleum prices.

He also asserted that the federal and provincial governments were on the same page on the issue of Covid-19, apparently in a bid to reject the reported controversy over lockdown that PM Khan repeatedly mentioned in his televised speeches.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza told the media about the complaints received from different areas that the patients of Covid-19 were not being treated fairly.

“We have received complaints that the district administrations and police treat the patients like criminals. If people get scared, they will never inform [anyone] about the disease and resultantly the number of cases will start multiplying,” he said.

Dr Mirza said the relevant departments were “directed that Covid-19 patients should be treated just like normal patients with special care.”

He announced that the country by April 15 would not only get capacity to hold 900,000 tests but “also get Synthesizer due to which our testing capacity will increase manifolds”.

Dr Mirza said the virus had already reached 200 countries where it infected around 800,000 patients, with the death toll estimated at 38,000 deaths. However, he added, good news was that around 165,000 patients had recovered.

First death in capital?

Soon after the death of a 92-year-old woman at an Islamabad hospital on Tuesday, reports about the first casualty in the federal capital went viral. However, the Islamabad administration claimed that it should be ranked as a death in Rawalpindi, as the deceased was a resident of Saidpur Road.

Islamabad deputy commissioner Hamza Shafqat said Akhtar Bano was brought to Shifa International Hospital, Islamabad on Monday night with symptoms of Covid-19 and she tested positive. He said the body was moved to Rawalpindi, as she was a resident of the Punjab city. “It should be considered a case of Rawalpindi,” he added.

Earlier, in a village of neighbouring Gujar Khan, the health department decided to test 13 members of a family for Covid-19 as a woman who had recently returned from France was admitted to a Rawalpindi hospital with Covid-19 symptoms.

Corona helpline

The Ministry of National Health Services launched the Pakistan Government Corona Helpline on WhatsApp. The new service, which is free-to-use, provides a central source of accurate, trustworthy and up-to-date information about Covid-19 for everyone in Pakistan.

According to a statement, Helpline is an automated ‘chatbot’ service that will allow citizens to get answers to the most common questions about coronavirus from the Ministry of Health round the clock. The service will be available in English, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi and Kashmiri languages and will provide information on topics such as coronavirus prevention and symptoms, the latest number of cases, and other trustworthy health information.

“To use the free Pakistan Government Corona Helpline on WhatsApp, simply save the number +92-300- 1111166 in phone contacts and then text any word in a WhatsApp message to get started. A set of menu options is then presented which the user can choose from and then be sent relevant guidance from the Ministry of Health for further information,” it states.

Dr Mirza said: “During this challenging time, it is very important that people get accurate, timely and official answers to questions they have about Covid-19 and its impact on their families and communities. We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to use Coronavirus Hotline on WhatsApp, and to make sure that they only trust health advice from official sources, such as this service. We thank WhatsApp and Facebook for their prompt support and assistance in bringing this service to Pakistan.”

Matt Idema, COO of WhatsApp, said: “At difficult times like these, people use WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities. We are pleased to be able to provide the Pakistan Ministry of National Health Services with the communications tools to help them respond to citizens’ questions about the virus with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe.”

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020