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March 31, 2020

Why we are going to win the battle against COVID-19


March 31, 2020

Islamabad:The number of people affected by COVID-19 globally has surpassed the 600,000 mark and the death toll is in excess of 27,000. The US has surpassed China and is now the most affected country with more than 100,000 infections recorded.

Italy and Spain fared the worst yesterday. The former reported 919 deaths - the highest number ever recorded by any country within the span of 24 hours. The latter was not far behind with the tally at 832 fatalities.

Media is inundated with figures and statistics. Predictive models and trends trying to make sense of the situation are being debated upon. There seems to be no end in sight to this pandemic which has wreaked havoc with global economy and brought social life to a standstill.

Why then do I, a young civil servant serving as Assistant Commissioner Secretariat Islamabad, think we will overcome this? This optimism does not merely derive from the phrase ‘hope is the buoy of life’ nor from the ‘herd immunity’ naturally acquired as a result of fighting off malaria and other diseases prevalent in our part of the world.

Moreover, it does not emanate from the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement that the coronavirus is a type of ‘flu’ from which 90% recover without any intervention or from the model put forward by Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate in Chemistry and professor at Stanford, which purports that the COVID-19 outbreak is short lived and not as devastating as widely assumed.

My optimism is, in fact, based on the ground work that civil administration, more specifically the District Administration, is doing across the country. As part of the district administration in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), I will present the case of the federal capital before commenting on the possibility that exists in other districts.

It is under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Deputy Commissioner Islamabad that the active young Assistant Commissioners are working in synergy with the law enforcement agencies and health authorities, often risking their own lives to keep the masses safe from COVID-19.

It would not be far-fetched to assert that the decisions in the National Security Council meeting are being implemented in letter and spirit by the District Administration. Of the preventive measures being taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19, those at the forefront are curtailment of social gatherings through raids on marriage halls, closure of shopping malls, barber shops etc. all of which are being led by the respective Assistant Commissioners in their territorial jurisdiction.

They are also ensuring the availability of face masks and hand sanitizers at market prices by raiding godowns and factories to prevent hoarding and profiteering. Moreover, as a preemptive measure in case of the spread of virus, they are overseeing the identification, vacation and operationalization of quarantine facilities and isolation centers after consultation with concerned stakeholders including the health authorities and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Furthermore, the district administration is also leading the effort in reporting suspected cases and the subsequent sample collection and testing, contact tracing and area inspections. In this quest teams led by Assistant Commissioners have reached the remotest areas of their jurisdiction including Pind Bhagwal, a far flung rural area in ICT.

The District Administration is also ensuring that people in locked-down areas do not suffer unnecessarily. Every effort is made to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential commodities. On receiving complaints of hoarding and price hikes of essential commodities, the go-getter Assistant Commissioners raid shops, warehouses and take legal action against the violators so that relief could be provided to the already hard-hit public. Due to COVID-19 outbreak the economy has slowed down and it has hit the daily wagers the hardest.

In order to mitigate the economic miseries of the poor, the District Administration is ensuring that the ‘Panahgahs’ (Shelter Homes) remain open so that the homeless don’t go to sleep without food and shelter. In the same vein, the Assistant Commissioners have used their good offices to arrange food rations for the poor families.

Shout out to the donors whose generosity towards humanity has kept their public service spirit high. It would not be far-fetched to say that the role of district administration is akin to that of a mother whose utmost priority is the welfare of its children.

The above narrative does not in any way seek to take away from the role of doctors and health practitioners who are, without a doubt, at the forefront in leading the battle against the pandemic and are not shying away from risking their own lives in line of duty, coming in direct contact with infected patients sometimes even without the personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The role of police too in the entire situation cannot be downplayed. Wherever, corona positive cases are detected, the police come to the aid of the administration in sealing the premises and ensuring their perpetual presence so that self-quarantined patients do not leave their houses.

Moreover, the police is keeping the non-essential businesses shut and nabbing the violators of Deputy Commissioners orders and advisories made in regards to the Corona virus pandemic. Similarly, it is through collaboration with military that the district administration is sealing areas where the frequency of positive COVID-19 cases is high.

The presence of military and rangers on roads and locked-down areas has enhanced the efficacy of government’s decisions. Another beacon of light is the presence of NDMA which, hitherto, was engaged in enhancing the country’s capacity to fight the battle against coronavirus and has started disinfecting the affected/ locked down areas.

The aid that has now been received from China in the form of 500,000 surgical masks, 50,000 N-95 Respirators and 50,000 testing kits will enable extensive testing and help detect asymptomatic cases, thus curtailing the inadvertent spread of the infection.

The role of media, too, is noteworthy as it has generated a national narrative and is spreading awareness regarding the preventive measures that need to be adopted by the general public. The masses are also being more receptive to preventive measures introduced by the government and are generally been obeying directives.

For example, this past Friday an overwhelming majority of people followed the government advisory and made preparations for Friday congregation at their homes. There is, though, a sizeable minority to which the phrase ‘kuch log aise hote hain jo Jannat se nikal ker dekhtay hain k dozakh me kya ho rha hai’ is applicable. For these people, there is only one message. We are out for you, please stay home for us.

My hope therefore is pinned on the positive role that all stakeholders are playing in their capacity. It is pertinent to mention that the synergies that are in action in Islamabad and are equally, if not more, stronger in other districts of Pakistan where line departments are working under the district administration and where for e.g. the health department reports to the Deputy Commissioner. Also they have at their disposal the resourceful Town Municipal Authorities to aid them.

Asadullah, The writer is Assistant Commissioner, Secretariat Islamabad and belongs to 4rd CTP, PAS