The Centre-Sindh tussle

March 22, 2020

Lack of coordination and trust among the federal and provincial governments is a challenge

Since February 26, when two cases of cornoravirus – one in Karachi and the other in Islamabad – emerged in Pakistan, the Sindh government has been seen proactively taking measures to fight the pandemic. However, officials claim that there is a lack of coordination between the federal government and the provinces over containing the virus.

In Sindh, the number of patients testing positive for the virus had jumped from 35 to 150 in a single day on March 15 when dozens of pilgrims returning from Iran, who had been kept in quarantine at the Taftan border for fourteen days, reached Sukkur and tested positive.

Since last month, more than 4,600 people have been held at the quarantine camp. Of those, over 1,800 have been released and have reached their home districts. According to Sindh government officials, there are 853 pilgrims in Taftan from Sindh. Of which 291 have been quarantined in the Labour Colony flats.

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Health officials in Karachi fear that community transmission of the virus has started in the province, including in Karachi. Five of the 27 confirmed cases in Karachi by March 17 were due to local transmission.

“The number of cases is beginning to take off. We expect a large increase in the coming weeks,” said a senior Sindh health official. “Community transmission of the virus is inevitable in Pakistan and it is difficult to halt because of the lack of capability and resources. Detecting community transmission requires mass testing which is impossible in Pakistan.”

To stop community transmission, the provincial government has closed schools and religious institutions, and banned public gatherings. On March 17, Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah announced that restaurants and shopping malls will be closed for 15 days. He also said that inter-city bus services will be closed.

In Karachi, a city of twenty million people, state-run hospitals neither have adequate arrangements for coronavirus tests nor do they have a sufficient number of trained doctors and paramedics, and personal protective equipment to deal with a pandemic.

In a visit to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the city’s largest state-run hospital, doctors and paramedics were found complaining that the government had not provided masks and hazmat suits to the facility yet. Media reports citing the federal health minister have suggested that there are currently around 25,000 coronavirus testing kits available in Pakistan. A large number of doctors and paramedics are now refusing to work in the isolation wards.

Most of the pilgrims returning from Iran have complained of ‘inhumane’ treatment. The pilgrims at the Taftan border quarantine say that they have not been tested. Some are demanding that the authorities send them to their home provinces. CM Shah has strongly criticised the federal government and said that quarantine at international borders is the constitutional responsibility of the federal government.

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But Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders say that after the 18th Amendment, health is a under provincial subject. “The federal government is playing its role and extending all help to provinces,” said Haleem Adil Shaikh, PTI’s parliamentary leader in Sindh Assembly.

Shaikh said that the federal government had provided 1,540 kits to Sindh, 292 kits to Aga Khan University Hospital, 240 kits to Civil Hospital Karachi, 96 to Dow Medical College Hospital, and 480 to Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences.

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter  @zalmayzia

Coronavirus: Lack of coordination among Sindh and federal governments is a challenge