HRCP terms govt response to Covid-19 unsatisfactory

Published July 21, 2020
Parliamentary secretary tells NA all indicators show reduction in virus spread in Pakistan. — Reuters/File
Parliamentary secretary tells NA all indicators show reduction in virus spread in Pakistan. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has declared the government’s response to Covid-19 unsatisfactory but the latter again claimed that apart from Karachi the situation across the country is under control.

While replying to a call attention notice in the National Assembly, Parliamentary Secretary on National Health Services (NHS) Dr Nausheen Hamid said all indicators were showing that the spread of the virus had been reduced in Pakistan and neighbouring Iran and Afghanistan.

The call attention notice titled “matter of urgent public importance regarding alarming decrease in the testing for Covid-19 in the country, causing grave concern amongst the public” was submitted by Pakistan Peoples Party’s legislators Syed Naveed Qamar, Shazia Marri, Dr Shazia Sobia, Aslam Soomro, Mahesh Kumar Malani and Nawabzada Iftikhar Ahmed Khan Babar.

Mr Qamar said that contrary to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for increasing the number of tests, the United States, Brazil and Pakistan had decreased testing for Covid-19.

Parliamentary secretary tells NA all indicators show reduction in virus spread in Pakistan

“As per recommendations of the WHO, we should have conducted 20 million tests, but the number of tests is much lower [1.6 million],” he said.

Dr Hamid said that there were a number of reasons for decrease in tests, such as WHO had changed its guideline due to which earlier two tests of a patient were conducted to declare him/her negative, but now only one test was held.

She said: “Moreover, I disagree with the word alarming decrease because as compared to June on average just 2,000 cases per day have been decreased in July. We have also increased the capacity of tests as we had only two labs on Feb 26, but now we have 130 labs.”

Dr Sobia claimed in other countries 13 per cent healthcare workers (HCWs) had been infected by the virus, but why only 3pc HCWs had been infected in Pakistan. Did it show that HCWs in Pakistan were avoiding patients, she questioned.

Dr Hamid said that HCWs were not infected because the number of Covid-19 cases in the country was decreasing.

HRCP study

The HRCP’s analytical fact-finding study finds that the pandemic has eroded people’s trust in, and respect for, ruling institutions and the governing elite. The health emergency has exacerbated existing structural discrimination and inequalities, and laid bare misplaced socioeconomic priorities.

“The government’s overall response has been marred by inconsistent messaging at the top, which must be rectified by ensuring that the federal and provincial governments present a united front in this time of crisis. It is stressed that the rights of the vulnerable and marginalised must be at the centre of all efforts related to pandemic prevention, containment, and treatment — not only in this instance but as a matter of principle and policy in the long term,” it states.

The report includes a survey of a cross-section of citizens countrywide, of whom only 25pc thought the steps taken by the federal government had been effective in tackling Covid-19. Around 94pc felt that wage labour had been the most affected by the pandemic. More than half were concerned that religious minorities would be discriminated against in the distribution of relief items or access to healthcare, and around 70pc felt that women had become increasingly vulnerable to domestic violence.

“Any revival of economic activity will have to be done by generating demand and avoiding any downsising. In addition, to make resources available for employment generation and wider, more effectual social protection, the government must realise the urgent need to cut back on redundant government divisions and departments and non-combat defence expenditure,” it states.

The report suggests that, in terms of public health, an overarching strategy should be built around preventive healthcare. Adequate personal protective equipment must be made available to all frontline workers, including janitorial staff, at all levels. In the short term, the government must fill vacant positions in the provincial health service systems and arrange to use district hospitals for quarantine and isolation.

“Women’s health, employment, and domestic abuse are areas of special concern that need immediate attention. Governments and civil society must not lose sight of the vulnerability of religious minorities, persons living with disabilities, the elderly, and transgender persons, especially in terms of their access to healthcare and aid distribution. The problems identified in access to online education and connectivity must be rectified at the earliest. Serious attention must also be paid to the state of Pakistan’s prisons, which are especially susceptible to infectious diseases,” it states.

HRCP believes that there is a defining time for government at all levels as their performance will be judged in relation to how they have handled this crisis, and there is much that can still be done to mitigate its effects.

The report has recommended that the federal government must bring back parliamentary oversight to all decision making, and address institutional imbalances in the interest of democracy. The collaborative and coordinated policy effort must involve the federal, provincial and district governments in order to put forward a united front.

“A crisis of this magnitude demands good working relations between the government and opposition. For the federal government to hector an opposition-led provincial government is counter-productive at a time like this. The importance of local governments has been emphasised time and again. Therefore, an election schedule for local governments in Punjab, KP and Balochistan must be announced at the earliest,” it recommends.

The government will need to introduce financing schemes that ensure easy, collateral-free loans for small businesses in liaison with the State Bank of Pakistan for SMEs to help them weather the Covid-19 storm. It should assume that some of these loans may not be repaid because of permanent shifts in economy. Learning from the world, Pakistan, too, should restructure its economy with more industrial focus. The government should assess new opportunities arising in medical equipment, medical sciences, and food security, and help SMEs build capacity to meet the surging global demand.

PML-N Response

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz secretary information Marriyum Aurangzeb has said the HRCP report has blown the lid off the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s false claims of containing coronavirus in Pakistan. In a statement, she demanded that an emergent meeting of the parliamentary committee concerned be called to assess the true state of affairs.

Ms Aurangzeb said that the so-called ‘handsome’ prime minister had lead the country to disaster with his so-called ‘smart’ lockdowns. She pointed out how Imran Kahn worsened the virus situation in the country with his narrative of Covid-19 being just a flu-like disease. She criticised the prime minister for demonising lockdowns.

She said the government had been portraying a false narrative of their own choice by virtually ending the testing for Covid-19. The price of this wrong policy of the government was being paid by the people of the country with their lives, she added.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2020

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