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March 25, 2020

COVID-19: LHC seeks details of pilgrims returned from Iran

Top Story

March 25, 2020

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Tuesday directed the federal government to provide details of pilgrims returned from Iran and Pakistani nationals still stranded in foreign countries besides the number of daily wagers affected by the lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan also sought the complete details of quarantines and other facilities being provided to citizens returning from abroad and Iran in particular. The bench was hearing a public interest petition questioning the inadequate measures taken by the government to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Justice Shujaat Ali khan, Justice Ayesha A Malik, Justice Shahid Jamil Khan and Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi were the other members of the bench. Additional Attorney General Ishtiaq A Khan, Acting Advocate General Punjab Shan Gul, Secretary Specialized Health Nabeel Awan and Secretary Primary Healthcare Muhammad Usman were present.

As the hearing started, the court asked the federal government how many pilgrims are stranded in Iran, to which the additional AG said 600 Pakistanis are still in Iran and are set to return. The court expressed annoyance for not taking timely steps and remarked that the government allowed pilgrims to go scot-free instead of stopping them at the Taftan border. Now they have become the major source of spreading the novel virus in the country.

The federal government does not look serious to handle the extraordinary situation as it is wasting time in gimmicks, the court observed, adding that the Pakistani embassy in Iran does not even have the data of these pilgrims.

The secretary primary healthcare said three quarantine centres have been set up at Taftan, Chaman and Khyber borders. He said a quarantine centre has also been established in Islamabad for the citizens returning to the country through special international flights. The court said all emergency steps should be given a legal cover and asked the law officer to apprise it whether banks could deduct Zakat now to help out daily wagers. Justice Khan said daily wagers are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis after the virus outbreak and the entire society should take care of them in the testing times. “It is our Islamic as well as national duty,” he said.

The court said if the international flights have been stopped, why permission has been granted to bring Pakistanis from Qatar in a special flight. What is the fault of Pakistanis stranded in the US, the UK and other countries, why the government is discriminating against them. There should be a uniform policy for all, the court added.

The secretary health said health emergency has been imposed in the country and the best health facilities are being provided to patients. However, his answer did not please the court. Answering a court query, the secretary health said diagnostic centres would be set up at the divisional level after the approval of the cabinet.

Nabeel Awan said the testing facility will be started at the PKLI and another hospital within a day. He pointed out that 430 ventilators in the public sector are available in Lahore and 452 in the private sector while a total of 752 are available in other districts.

The IG prisons told the court that an Italy-returned prisoner has been tested positive for coronavirus and he has been quarantined. He said 490 prisoners are being screened, who are suspected to have contacted him. He said prisoners are screened before their release on bail.

The bench expressed concern over non-implementation of health emergency and lockdown in the province, saying that children have been witnessed playing cricket in streets and parks. The bench also took notice of costly test of coronavirus being conducted by private labs and directed the government to rationalize the prices of the test in the private sector.

The bench adjoined the hearing till March 27.

Earlier, the bench dismissed an application by Judicial Activism Panel Chairman Azhar Siddique to become party in the case.