Controls on Afghan, Iran borders being beefed up to fight Covid

Published May 3, 2021
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday decided to enhance protocols on borders with Iran and Afghanistan. — Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/File
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday decided to enhance protocols on borders with Iran and Afghanistan. — Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/File

• Vaccination of people aged 40-49 begins today
• 113 succumb to virus, over 4,000 get infected
• Fafen calls for strategic approach to cover gaps

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to prevent possible arrival of new Covid-19 variants, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday decided to enhance protocols on borders with Iran and Afghanistan by regulating inbound pedestrian movement and effectively managing health guidelines.

On the other hand, vaccination of people in the age bracket of 40-49 years is set to begin on Monday (today).

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, on condition of anonymity, had said that there were an estimated 12 million people in this age group.

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19-related deaths in the country surpassed the figure of 18,000.

According to a statement issued by the NCOC, in order to stop a new mutation from entering Pakistan, the current policy of Land Border Management with Afghanistan and Iran has been reviewed to ensure regulated inbound pedestrian movement and effective management of Covid-19 protocols at border terminals.

“Revised Land Border Management Policy will be effective from mid night 4/5 May (0001 PST) till midnight 19/20 May (0001 PST) and applicable only to inbound pedestrians with no effect on existing cargo/trade (Bilateral/Afghan Transit Trade) movement,” the statement said, adding that border terminals would remain open seven days a week and employment strength of law enforcement agencies and health staff at the terminals would be increased to implement testing protocols and control high traffic density.

“Inbound pedestrian movement would cease with effect from midnight 4/5 May (0001 PST) with exception to Pakistani nationals in Afghanistan and Iran desirous to return and extreme medical emergency cases etc. All outbound pedestrian movement is permissible,” it further stated.

The NCOC also announced that Pakistani nationals would undergo testing and quarantine protocols.

“Inbound pedestrians will undergo rapid antigen test (RAT). Positive cases (Pakistani nationals only) will be shifted to nearby quarantine facilities. Inbound pedestrian with Afghan exemptions will also undergo RAT testing at the border terminals. Positive cases, if any, will be reverted back to Afghanistan. Thermal scanning of all drivers/co-drivers will be carried out on arrival at the border terminal. Symptomatic cases will undergo RAT testing, positive cases will be dealt with as per procedure spelled above,” the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, people aged 40 and above will be able to get vaccinated from Monday onwards.

The decision was taken by the NCOC on April 29, which was later confirmed by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar through a tweet.

According to the forum’s data, the country reported 113 deaths and 4,414 new cases in a single day with 663 patients on ventilators.

The number of active cases as of May 2 was calculated at 89,661 while the death toll has reached 18,070.

The NCOC has also decided to introduce strict mobility control measures to avoid a situation like India.

“Stay Home, Stay Safe!’ Strict Mobility Control Measures will be enforced from 8-16 May to control the spread of the disease. According to media reports, India ignored Covid-19 warnings and now struggling to contain the disease!!,” the NCOC tweeted.

Meanwhile, Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), in its sixth report on ‘Monitoring and Assessment of the Government’s Covid-19 Response’, stressed upon short-term strategic approach to cover the gaps.

It especially emphasised on setting up a structural platform that established close coordination at various tiers of government, a robust legislative engagement and oversight that imparted an inclusive and representative character to all measures needed and lastly to build public knowledge and understanding that made compliance with safety guidelines more voluntary than enforced.

Fafen’s monitoring and observation of governance of Covid-19 response from Oct 10, 2020 to April 14, 2021 also indicated an indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned towards legal, institutional and implementation issues that impacted Pakistan’s capacity to respond to pandemics and other health emergencies.

It paints a worrying picture of the country’s overall health governance system.

“Even though the country is undergoing the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the legislature, which is the first pillar of the governance system, has largely ignored the pandemic and the issues undermining the healthcare system. A minimal interest had been observed in the pandemic in the country’s legislative bodies, with only a few giving the importance Covid-19 needed as a national health emergency,” the report said.

It further stated that the institutional framework required to deal with a pandemic under a national response was missing.

“Though health was a provincial subject post-18th constitutional amendment, all three waves of Covid-19 illustrated that the devolution was far from being complete while the required national-level coordination had to be established through ad-hoc measures,” the report added.

It criticised media for failing to play its role in highlighting the situation of the health sector.

“Media, being an important pillar of governance and oversight systems, had either not been ready, or prudent to observe, report and comment on the state of health governance in Pakistan,” the report said.

“National and local level media monitored at district levels and interviews with journalists at district level show that these stakeholders lacked the capacity of evidence-based reporting,” it said, adding that, “now with its focus towards operationalisation of response, the role of Pakistani media has started improving gradually since the start of the pandemic as it began using evidence-based reporting and demanding the executive and the legislature to behave more responsibly in face of the third wave of the deadly virus.”

The report claimed that despite warnings from various stakeholders, including medics and civil society organisations such as Fafen, the government eased restrictions on Feb 24. Around the same time, the trends were showing an increase in infections and positivity rate.

It went on to say that hardly a week had passed when the government backtracked from its decision and announced the onset of yet another wave with the re-imposition of several restrictions.

The third wave had found its foothold by then, the report stated.

“Due to inconsistencies in the system, there has been a general lack of trust in the government’s Covid-19 response among the public. A consistent reading of lack of compliance with SOPs through all the waves of the pandemic even at public offices and health facilities is a clear example of the trend. A more recent expression of lack of trust in the government’s decision-making regarding the pandemic is the lowest number of vaccinations against Covid-19 in Pakistan compared to neighbouring countries. This again is an expression of the fact that when the system of governance is reactive, lacks transparency and is inconsistent in its decisions like implementation of lockdown, its credibility suffers a significant and perhaps irreparable loss,” the report stated.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2021

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