SOPs not followed

Jun 05 2020

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AS Covid-19 cases swell across the country, the deaths of some legislators who contracted the coronavirus are a tragic example of how close to home the pandemic has hit for so many families. Among the latest Covid-19 fatalities are two legislators from Punjab and KP who passed away after testing positive. Before this, a Sindh minister died after testing positive. In May, a JUI-F MPA and former Balochistan governor as well as a PTI MPA in Punjab passed away after contracting the infection. The number of lawmakers testing positive is also growing, with confirmed cases of legislators in KP, Sindh and Punjab. The figures look more worrying by the day. More than 4,000 new cases and over 80 deaths were reported in a single day — numbers that show a consistently rising graph.

The government’s strategy to curb this rapid spread relies solely on citizens following the SOPs. In many countries, including Pakistan, the SOPs include frequent handwashing, maintaining a certain distance from others, avoiding touching the face and eyes, but most importantly, covering the face and nose. In fact, sharing the federal government’s updated Covid-19 guidelines, Dr Zafar Mirza last week said that face masks are mandatory. Although it is unclear how the government plans to enforce this rule, scientific evidence shows that wearing masks can limit the spread of the virus. “It is prudent for the people to wear face masks with an intention to protect their fellow beings,” the guidelines say. Since the guidelines were announced, the prime minister was seen wearing a face mask in footage of a cabinet meeting released by his office last night. Raising eyebrows the day before, however, were official photographs of his visit to the ISI headquarters this week, in which Mr Khan was the only participant seen not wearing any kind of face covering. The same has been said about many of his ministers. This careless messaging on the part of the leadership raises several questions: how can leaders preach safety to the public if they themselves follow the SOPs inconsistently? Why has the government gone so terribly wrong in its Covid-19 messaging? After the government’s green signal for businesses to resume, ensuring universal compliance with the SOPs is perhaps the only barrier left to limit the spread of the virus to some extent. As cases and fatalities increase, the government must reflect on its own failures. The leadership must be more deliberate in its messaging.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020