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March 26, 2020

LHC bothered about improper steps on coronavirus

Top Story

March 26, 2020

LAHORE: A Lahore High Court full bench has expressed concerns over the performance of the federal government in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and establishment of quarantine centres within cities, saying the situation being faced by the nation is because of inappropriate measures of the central government. A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan on Wednesday released a written order of its March 24 proceedings on a coronavirus crisis-related petition and observed that “the federal government has not been able to properly accept and take on its responsibility”.

“When spreading of coronavirus was well within the knowledge of all agencies and the China border had been sealed, still opening the Iran boarder, although quarantine centres were established, inappropriate dealing with suspects, allowing them to spread all over the country on the face of it is not understandable. “We are compelled to say that the position the nation is now facing is because of inappropriate measures of government agencies. The government must have felt the gravity and if it had allowed the visitors to come back to Pakistan from the Iran border, they must not have been allowed and handed over to other provinces without their proper screening, the bench noted with concern.

About setting quarantines, the court observed: “We are further concerned about the establishment of quarantine centres within the cities. As a precaution, the government must have chosen the border area to establish quarantine centers so that the affected or suspected persons must have been treated then and there, instead of making the lives of hundreds and thousands of other people vulnerable.

During the hearing, Secretary Specialized Care Nabeel Awan did not deny deputation of schoolteachers at quarantine centres. However, he added that steps are being taken and medical students and other paramedical staff volunteers would be deputed at quarantine centres for effective management.

To a court query, Additional Attorney General Ishtiaq A Khan admitted that all international flights have been suspended but a flight from Qatar landed at Islamabad a couple of days ago. “This is really shocking that if international flight operations have been suspended as a policy, how the government can relax such policy at its will. This is yet another example of colourful exercise of authority by the persons sitting on the helm of affairs, but this court will not allow any such practice to nourish,” the court observed.

When asked under what law the federal government has announced health emergency, the Addl AG was unable to assist the court.

“We did not expect such lack of legal awareness on the part of the Addl AG as there is no doubt whatsoever that all directives/instructions or policies are to be formed, regulated and implemented within the parameters of some law,” the court noted.

Earlier, Secretary Primary and Secondary Healthcare Muhammad Usman conceded that the trouble of COVID -19 hit Pakistan when some persons were allowed entrance from the Iran border. According to him, despite setting up quarantine centres, the authorities could not properly handle the situation and thus the virus started spreading in other parts of the country.

The learned additional attorney general was also unable to provide data about such persons willing to enter Pakistan.

The court asked the IG (Prisons) to submit a complete list of under-trial prisoners with the age of sixty and above along with their state of health. The court also sought details of convicts who are languishing in jail only because of non-payment of Diyat, Arsh or fine and asked jail authorities to chalk out a policy with the help of health officials to ensure that the old and new prisoners are screened properly.

The court formulated a bunch of questions and directed the Addl AG and Acting Advocate General Punjab Shan Gul to furnish a comprehensive report regarding the number of persons who are expected to enter Pakistan through Iran border and the financial or other assistance being rendered by the federal government to the provincial governments to deal with the ongoing situation.

The both law officers were also required to apprise the court about the policy drawn for proper and effective screening of international postal dock, decisions/steps taken to ensure the lives of petty daily wagers and laborers, etc. is protected and how they will be supplied daily-use items. Whether the daily wagers or the persons working in the industrial/social sector will be paid salaries/remunerations, etc? How effectively Bait-ul-Mal can be used and what measures are being taken to attract financially strong volunteered personalities to come ahead in aid of humanity? The court asked.

“As policy decisions are ultimately taken by the government, therefore, we hope that the government will consider the possibility and Zakat collection may be started at the earliest so that the poor public is benefitted,” the court said.

The court observed that the print and electronic media is now one of the main sources of public awareness and the government should use it for public awareness about COVID-19. It is expected that media houses, in a war like situation, would ensure positive reporting of events and cooperate with all government and social agencies, the court concluded.

The court will resume the hearing on March 27.