ON Monday, Sindh Police officials were given a well-deserved slap on the wrist by a judicial magistrate in Karachi for not following government-mandated Covid SOPs. This happened when the police presented in court some 300 people, arrested for flouting SOPs over the weekend, to seek their physical remand. The judge first admonished the officers for not providing the ‘suspects’ with face masks, thus exposing them to unnecessary risk, and then told the police officers that they themselves were liable to be arrested for flouting SOPs. The detainees were released and the judge also sought a reply from those who had ordered the registration of FIRs against them.

There is no doubt that the ‘stay home-stay safe’ restrictions are more than justified at a time when the Covid numbers look threatening. But it is unfortunate that, ever since the pandemic began, both the federal and provincial governments have undermined their own authority by delaying tough decisions or taking them and then easing them partially or fully, or turning a blind eye to violators. The messaging has been very faulty and inconsistent — encouraging the public to think that there would be no consequences for not following the rules. For instance, although in the initial months the Sindh government took the lead in emphasising SOPs and imposing lockdowns, it has since been unable to effectively restrict the movement of people. Having said that, an arresting spree by the police is not the way to persuade the public to stay at home. For one, little is known about the circumstances under which the arrests took place. And for law-enforcement authorities to lock people up to save them from imminent danger and then exposing them to it anyway, and flouting the SOPs themselves, is simply absurd. For its part, the public has also been careless in following government directives which have been issued for their own protection. We will only be able to see the end of the pandemic if each and every one of us plays their part.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2021

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