Dozens of people on Tuesday protested outside the Covid-19 isolation ward of Karachi's Liaquat National Hospital against the hospital management for keeping a coronavirus patient in the ward and not releasing his wife's body.
Maqbool Kakar, the district south vice president of the Awami National Party (ANP), and his wife were shifted to the LNH after being involved in an accident while travelling from Quetta. Their son died in the accident.
Following emergency treatment, Kakar and his wife were shifted to the hospital's isolation ward after both of them tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an LNH spokesperson.
The spokesperson said the wife was in a very critical condition when brought to the hospital and underwent surgery following consent from the family. However, she passed away on Monday in the isolation ward after the surgery.
On Tuesday evening, around 50-60 protesters gathered at the hospital, demanding Kakar's release from the isolation ward and for them to be handed over his wife's body. They also chanted slogans of "corona kay naam pe qatl-i-aam band karo" (stop killing under the guise of corona).
ANP Sindh’s Deputy General Secretary Sher Mohammad Afridi, who was at the protest, claimed that the hospital had declared Kakar's wife a coronavirus patient after she died following a back surgery three days after the accident.
He said Kakar, with both of his legs fractured and a broken rib, "has been thrown into the isolation centre" and questioned why he wasn't diagnosed as a Covid-19 patient three days earlier.
Afridi asked why Kakar's wife was operated upon if the couple were Covid-19 patients. "After three days you are telling us he (Kakar) has corona. Who will answer for his legs and ribs?" he said, accusing the hospital administration of aggravating the protesters and avoiding dialogue with them.
LNH spokesperson Anjum Rizvi "categorically denied" that the patients were brought to the hospital three days ago, saying they were admitted at around 5:30am on June 8 (yesterday).
According to the spokesperson, the hospital had contacted the commissioner's office to process the burial of Kakar's wife, as per the government's standard operating procedures.
As the demonstration continued, the hospital administration allowed two protesters to go inside the isolation ward and meet Kakar after wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Shortly after the people gathered outside the ward, Rangers and police personnel were called to the facility.
The protesters dispersed after around two hours after they were given assurances by the doctors regarding Kakar's treatment.
Afridi said the hospital administration had explained to the protesters that even a Covid-19 patient can be operated on. "They have assured us that they will perform surgery on [Kakar's] legs tomorrow and carry out further treatment safely. We are satisfied with this," he added.
The LNH spokesperson told Dawn.com that the hospital has its own security to deal with such incidents, and calls police and Rangers if a situation worsens.
The spokesperson said the protesters were shouting slogans directly under the ward that is dedicated to the care of cardiac patients. "The patients are being perturbed by the commotion and it is naturally ill-advised for them to be under any kind of stress," he added at the time.
Emphasising that doctors and nursing staff are doing their best under "very difficult circumstances", he said incidents such as this hurt their morale. “One cannot even imagine how hot it is under all those layers of PPE. And the doctors wear these for several hours on end while caring for patients all the while putting themselves at risk of exposure,” he added.