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March 27, 2020

As doctors go in self-isolation, many unable to grasp gravity of situation


March 27, 2020

A doctor, who wished not to be named, has been in self-isolation for the last four days. He has had multiple contacts with a doctor colleague who tested positive for coronavirus. The latter attended an annual religious gathering in Punjab this month.

“He came back last week and worked with us for two days before he had a high-degree fever,” says the doctor, who is the head of a department in one of the biggest hospitals of Karachi. “Now he [the colleague] has tested positive [for COVID-19].”

The doctor has moved his wife and kids to his father’s home. “I don’t have any symptoms for now. But who would know better than me that I am a coronavirus suspect!” However, the family is not completely safe at his father’s home either. “My brother is also a doctor. And he can be a source of infection at my father’s home.”

‘I don’t want to go home’

“Last night I was too depressed. Because I know the virus has spread among doctors and we can take it to our homes,” said the brother physician. “I have asked the management to arrange accommodation for me in the hospital. I don’t want to go home.”

He says his blood boils when he sees people making jokes about the pandemic. “We are a lost cause. Doctors are risking their lives, doctors are putting their families in danger but people around us are not ready to take it seriously.”

He says if the government does not strictly deal with the coronavirus lockdown violators, “the time is not far when we will be short of space for the burial of our loved ones”. He says that like his brother, more doctors and medical staff have been told to go in self-isolation following their contacts with coronavirus patients. “If more doctors are put in quarantine, who would take care of the people in the city?”

Similarly, another doctor, who is treating coronavirus patients at a government hospital, says, “I rush to the bathroom without touching anything as I make it home. My brother puts my clothes in the bathroom before my arrival. After taking a bath, I wash my clothes with antiseptic and clean door knobs with a surface cleaner.”

Despite this, the doctor says he is under a lot of stress. “I doubt I can still spread the infection at my home, since this is what happened in Wuhan where doctors got the infection from hospitals and took it to their homes.” He demands of the religious scholars to ask their followers to stay home and also pray at home. “People don’t listen to us [doctors], but they do listen to religious scholars in Pakistan.”

Prudent prayer leaders

On Thursday, the Sindh government issued directions for congregational prayers and limited the number of people at the mosques during the prayers as a preventive measure against COVID-19.

However, even before that, at least some prayer leaders had realised the gravity of the current situation and were telling their followers to be prudent.

After Isha prayers on Tuesday, Hafiz Aftab Ansari, the imam of Memon Majid in the Jamshed Road area, had made this announcement: “Please stay at home – at least pray Sunnat [part of the prayers] at home and come to the mosque only for Farz [the obligatory part of the prayers] if you want to.”

Talking to The News, Ansari said it seemed like the advent of Ramazan as mosques in his area were full of worshippers. “Only the imam and a few people can come for the prayers. The rest can stay home, especially the elderly ones. But they are not listening to me either.”

However, it is pertinent to mention here that not all the clerics were asking people to stay home. They were in fact calling on their followers to come to the mosques. On Wednesday, Egypt's Al-Azhar issued a Fatwa (religious decree), asking to halt congregational prayers at mosques to stem the spread of coronavirus outbreak.

Disinfecting mosques

As a precautionary measure, a group of people in Jamshed Town also carried out disinfection spray in mosques. “We are part of the Minhaj Welfare Foundation,” said Shahnoor Al-Qadri. “We are spraying disinfectants at mosques and cleaning the gates as well.”

Al-Qadri said there were tens of mosques in the town and so far they could reach 19 of them. “The problem is that the effect of the spray lasts only for three days. We will have to do it every fourth day.”

However, a doctor said the disinfectant spray did not provide a surety that worshippers would not get and spread the virus. “Even doctors are getting the virus despite all precautionary measures. So, the only way out for now is praying at home.”

Al-Qadri’s team also carried out disinfection spray at mosques in the Martin Road area. The mosques there were full of worshippers. After a prayer in a mosque, a man brought with him a sack filled with tamarind seeds.

He wanted people to do Zikr in the traditional way of picking up a handful of tamarind seeds spread on a piece of cloth lying on the floor and then dropping them one by one while doing the recitation.

As this happened, a worshipper stopped the man from spreading the tamarind seeds on the cloth. “For God sake, don’t do this. It can spread the virus. Go home, please!”

To this, a physician remarked that the worshipper “who stopped the man from spreading the tamarind seeds should not have been there in the first place”. “Not everybody would listen to you, but you can at least take the precautions for yourself and your family in this time of crisis. Please pray at home. Else, chances are high that there will be a few people present in our funeral prayers – or may be nobody, if we don’t do the needful.”

Social stigma

An official team took away a man, his brother and his father from the Martin Road area on Tuesday night. “The man recently returned from Iraq. He was there for Ziarat [pilgrimage],” says Syed Aftab, the man’s neighbour.

Until Wednesday evening, people in the area were panicking and spreading rumours about the family. “Now the man has come back along with his father and brother. They have tested negative but people are not even coming close to their home,” Syed Aftab says.

Talking to The News, the man’s brother says: “We don’t want to give any justification to the people. We have tested negative.” On the one hand, Syed Aftab says, people are not coming close to his neighbours although they have tested negative and on the other hand, people are roaming around the area as if there is no virus threat at all.