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April 2, 2020

Manning Pakistan’s air, sea, land entry points by CHE: Quarantining foreign-returned COVID-19 suspects federal govt’s responsibility

Top Story

April 2, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Quarantining of “zaireen” (pilgrims) coming back from Iran is the primary responsibility of the federal government through the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and not any provincial administration to check whether these returnees have been infected by the COVID-19.

The subject of quarantine is mentioned in entry number 19 of the Fourth Schedule of Part I of the Federal Legislative List (FLL) of the Constitution. As per the Article 142, parliament shall have exclusive power to make laws with respect to any matter in the FLL.

The Central Health Establishment (CHE), which comes under the control of the health ministry according to the Rules of Business 1973, has deployed its staff at all the air, land and sea entry and exit points to ensure that nothing hit by infectious disease gets into Pakistan.

The officially stated “vision” of the CHE is that it is recognized as a leading department of public health by providing dynamic monitoring and response framework to public health emergencies of international concerns at points of entry.

Its mission is to prevent international spread of diseases of global impact with effective and comprehensive implementation of International Health Regulations (2005) ensuring minimum interference to international travel and trade, thus contributing towards healthy and prosperous nation.

Regardless of capacity and capability to do its job, it was the main task of the CHE to carry out screening and examination of the suspected COVID-19 affectees at all the entry and exit points to make guarantee their quarantining at a proper place, equipped with all the requisite medical facilities, instead of Taftan, which is a far flung point in Balochistan, having no services to offer in order to deal with a crisis of monumental nature.

Experts say that it was the main responsibility of the CHE to make it sure that all the pilgrims coming from Iran are quarantined and properly checked at a suitable place.

They say that it is frivolous to put the burden on the Balochistan government for setting up the quarantine centre at Taftan, which is a small transit border town in Balochistan with Iran located at a distance of 630 km in the south-west of capital Quetta. Taftan is an under-developed and lacks even the basic infrastructure to host a few thousand people.

The quarantine camps, which were later set up at Sukkur, Dera Ghazi Khan and other places, were required to be established at the time of arrival of the pilgrims and there was no point in leaving them hapless at Taftan, which led to the spread of the scourge.

Experts say it would have been much better had the quarantine centres would have been created near big cities where it was possible to easily provide medical facilities to the affected people.

The catastrophic crisis has been created simply because of mismanagement. There was no logic in keeping the pilgrims for weeks at the Taftan quarantine camps as it was impossible to offer them the essential medical facilities whatsoever there.

It has been pointed out that despite the fact that Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza visited Taftan on Feb 28, he did not realize the gravity of the pandemic and rather termed the arrangements there satisfactory, which hardly existed. In reality, the pilgrims lived in unhygienic conditions. The zaireen came and are still coming from Mashhad and Qom after the pilgrimage.

The opposition parties have denounced Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis & Human Resource Development Zulfi Bukhari for allowing the pilgrims to return to the country in big numbers, a charge he has denied.

The issue was agitated in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which has, however, rejected a plea calling for establishment of a judicial commission to look into his role. He has sent a sent a defamation notice to opposition leader Khawaja Asif for hurling this allegation.