Putting all at risk

Published November 24, 2020

THE collective recklessness of our political parties, including the opposition and the ruling PTI, has resulted in an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country. In recent weeks, rallies in major cities, a huge election campaign in Gilgit-Baltistan and a mass funeral for the TLP chief have demonstrated how far removed the coronavirus threat is from the minds of our political leaders.

While the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F took the lead in calling supporters to superspreader gatherings under the PDM alliance banner, the Jamaat-i-Islami was responsible for a similar folly in Swat as thousands assembled for a public meeting called by the party. The PTI, too, is guilty of pre-pandemic style electioneering in GB as well as for holding big conventions in the capital.

The actions of the political leaders who lead these parties are supremely irresponsible and betray a careless approach to a virus that has destroyed lives and livelihoods all over the world. Even more disappointing is that the opposition is likely to skip a critical meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Coronavirus Disease this week as part of their decision to spurn the National Assembly speaker whom they accuse of biased conduct. For all these reasons, it is hardly surprising that global health expert Zulfiqar A. Bhutta in a piece for this paper described the Covid-19 public discourse and the response in Pakistan as “akin to watching a crash landing in slow motion”. The PDM, then, would do well to put off all its rallies until safer times arrive.

The lowering of the curve in August saw both the provincial and federal authorities adopt far too relaxed an approach to preventive practices and resume public activities with a gusto that would have made one think that the pandemic was over. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth.

The reality is dreary: Covid-19 cases are rising to dangerous levels, with a national positivity ratio racing past 7pc. In Azad Kashmir, KP and Sindh, this ratio is even higher at 11.45pc, 9.85pc and 9.63pc respectively. In Punjab, the cities of Rawalpindi, Multan, Lahore and Faisalabad are becoming hotspots, whereas cases in Gilgit and Islamabad are also rising. According to the NCOC, the number of critically ill patients admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 has increased two-fold in the last fortnight. The average daily death toll in the last seven days was recorded at 35. Worryingly, nearly a fifth of total positive cases are from educational institutions. Why these figures are not self-explanatory for political leaders is anyone’s guess.

This head-in-the-sand attitude is unacceptable and warrants a dramatic change. Those responsible for improving the lives of Pakistani citizens are, instead, putting them at risk. If the present rising tide of positive cases is not stemmed, infected patients will be helpless as hospitals become overwhelmed. The people and healthcare workers of this country deserve better.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2020

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