The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the federal government to determine the price of oxygen cylinders needed for coronavirus patients and also devise a mechanism in this regard.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed issued the directions on a plea by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government while hearing a suo motu case regarding measures taken to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.
The KP advocate general informed the court that due to a price not having been set, suppliers were charging exorbitant rates for oxygen cylinders, which are crucial for the treatment of critically ill Covid-19 patients.
After the chief of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) disassociated his agency from the issue, the court ordered the Ministry of Industries and Production to devise a mechanism and determine the price of oxygen cylinders within two days.
During the hearing, the apex court also termed as unsatisfactory reports submitted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Sindh government regarding measures taken to fight Covid-19.
Chief Justice Ahmed remarked that a large quantity of oxygen could be generated by the oxygen plant of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), directing authorities to make it functional.
However, the additional attorney general informed the court that the oxygen plant at PSM was 40 years old, and reviving it would cost Rs1 billion.
The court ordered the government lawyer to submit a detailed report regarding the availability of oxygen.
The chief justice also inquired why the government had allowed the import of unregistered drugs and medical equipment, wondering how the government will know which products were being imported.
At this, Drap officials informed the court that a number of medical equipment including ventilators were being manufactured in the country. They said there was no shortage of any medicine used to treat Covid-19 patients.
While expressing concern over the state of quarantine centres in the country, Chief Justice Ahmed directed the NDMA chairman to immediately visit the facilities.
"Tens of millions of rupees were spent on quarantine centres but everyone knows the conditions of Haji Camp quarantine centre [in Karachi] ... there is no water there and neither was it painted," the top judge remarked.
He said it appeared that there were irregularities in all of NDMA's affairs. "A company named Al Hafeez was made to set up an N-95 mask factory. Payments for all of the factory's machinery and duties were done in cash," Justice Ahmed said, adding that machinery brought into the country via a chartered plane was also paid for in cash.
He also inquired why purchases were made, and the chartered plane was arranged, through the Pakistani embassy in China.
"Does the Pakistani ambassador in China only carry out purchases or do diplomatic work as well?" Justice Ahmed asked rhetorically.
He directed the NDMA to submit a report regarding the situation at quarantine centres, and the health secretary to submit a fresh report regarding the government measures to tackle the pandemic.
Justice Ahmed also expressed displeasure at the absence of the Sindh advocate general in today's hearing.
He said the Sindh government had claimed to have spent large sums of money on Karachi and Covid patients, commenting that if the figures were true then "Sindh should have become Paris".
He observed that the Sindh government had also stated that it had spent $2,600 million on education. "With such an expense, all of Sindh's schools should have [become like] Harvard and the literacy rate should have been 100 per cent," Justice Ahmed remarked.
The court sought a clarification on the absence of the Sindh advocate general and a report from the provincial government. The hearing was subsequently adjourned for a month.
Pakistan is currently struggling to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections, with more than 800,000 cases and 18,000 deaths declared and only a fraction of the population having been vaccinated.
After a continuous rise in Covid-19 cases for almost three months, a downward trend was finally witnessed on Monday as both the positivity ratio and the number of cases declined.
However, experts believe that Pakistan has been facing a situation similar to that of last Ramazan and the number of cases may increase again if people violated the coronavirus-related SOPs as they did during the Eid holidays last year.
The country registered 4,113 new cases and 119 deaths during the last 24 hours, according to official data.