QUETTA: Police resort to baton charge to disperse protesters moving towards Red Zone during a demonstration by the Young Doctors Association over non-provision of personal protective equipment for treating coronavirus patients, outside Chief Minister House on Monday.—PPI
QUETTA: Police resort to baton charge to disperse protesters moving towards Red Zone during a demonstration by the Young Doctors Association over non-provision of personal protective equipment for treating coronavirus patients, outside Chief Minister House on Monday.—PPI

QUETTA: Police on Monday arrested scores of young doctors and paramedics who were protesting against the government for not providing them safety gear to protect them from the deadly coronavirus.

The Young Doctors Association alleged that police resorted to baton charge and arrested over 100 protesting doctors and health workers, including office-bearers of the YDA.

But police said 30 doctors had been arrested for taking out a protest really in violation of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure imposed by the Balochistan government in the provincial capital in connection with the lockdown.

Following the arrests, doctors, nurses and paramedical staff stopped working in Civil Hospital and Bolan Medical College Hospital Complex and announced that the boycott would continue till the release of all arrested doctors and paramedics and provision of safety kits, surgical masks and other safety gears.

“Over a dozen doctors and other health workers have been infected with coronavirus in Quetta because of lack of safety kits while others were also exposed to the deadly virus,” Dr Rahim, a spokesman for the YDA, said, adding that it was very alarming situation.

Bilawal condemns torture, arrest of health practitioners in Quetta

However, a spokesman for the Balochistan government termed the doctors’ protest unjustified and claimed that the government had provided the required safety gears to all doctors, paramedics, nurses and other health workers performing duty in quarantine centres and isolation wards. “We do not understand the protest by the doctors who were not performing duties in quarantine centres and isolation wards of Sheikh Zayed and Fatima Jinnah Chest hospitals,” Liaquat Shahwani said.

However, he said, the government had assured the protesting doctors that they would also be provided safety gears, adding that doctors had the right to criticise the government, but should not stop performing duties. He said China was also facing shortage of safety gears, adding that the National Disaster Management Authority had supplied 50,000 N-95 masks which the health department was distributing among the doctors.

The young doctors and paramedics gathered on the premises of Civil Hospital Quetta and started protest against the health authorities for not supplying safety gears and other preventive items to the doctors performing duty in hospitals. They were carrying placards and banners inscribed with demands, including removal of the health secretary and special health secretary.

They chanted slogans against the provincial authorities, came out of the hospital premises and stated moving towards the Officers Club where the provincial cabinet was in meeting. Police blocked the road leading to the club.

The protesting doctors and health workers tried to break the cordon which led to a clash between them and police personnel. Some protesters were injured when police used batons against them. Police also arrested dozens of protesting doctors.

Leader of the Opposition in the Balochistan Assembly Malik Sikandar Khan and MPA Sana Baloch condemned the police action against young doctors and health workers and said that through such action the government wanted to hide its incompetency and corruption of the health secretary and special health secretary.

Bilawal slams arrest of doctors

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the torture and arrest of doctors in Quetta and said that bullying by the government of doctors who had been demanding protective gear was a shameful act.

He said it was not justified to imprison doctors just because they were demanding protective gear and equipment, adding that at a time when doctors were needed in hospitals, they had been sent to jails. “The PTI government is violating human rights and arresting and torturing doctors which is condemnable.”

The PPP chairman said that doctors were fighting coronavirus as a frontline force and the entire world was appreciating the services of doctors and paramedical staff at this hour of need, but in Pakistan the PTI government was sending doctors to jails. He said that this shameful act of the government would bring down the morale of doctors and it showed the incapability of this PTI government. He said the PPP was with the doctors and saluted doctors, nurses and paramedical staff for their services in these difficult times.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020