A chaotic policy

March 22, 2020

Pakistan is struggling to ensure proper quarantine and testing facilities amid an exponential growth in the coronavirus cases

A muddled policy of restraining coronavirus (COVID-19) in the midst of an exponential growth in the number of positive tested patients in the country has caused panic among the masses. Provincial governments have opted for gradual lockdown, compelling people to self-isolate to prevent the further spread of this disease.

Last week, the number of coronavirus positive cases in the country crossed 300 while two died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The number of cases continues to surge daily.

The federal government took the virus seriously for the first time towards the end of January when it started screening passengers arriving at its major airports. Since then, the government has at least thrice revised this screening system due to failure of previous methods.

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The return of more than 6,000 Pakistani pilgrims from Iran forced the country’s National Security Council (NSC) to convene its meeting. On March 13, the NSC reviewed Pakistan’s response to the pandemic. The government set up a National Coordination Committee for COVID-19 and decided to close educational institutions for three weeks. It also closed borders with neighbouring countries. The government has banned large gatherings for two weeks, except for Friday sermons saying religious matters are “sensitive.”

However, the government policy remained unsuccessful in containing the virus after it failed to properly manage the pilgrims from Iran, who were quarantined in mismanaged facilities at the Taftan border in Balochistan. The government could neither properly screen nor test all pilgrims for COVID-19.

Till now, the government policy is not clear regarding the containment of the virus.

Till now, more than half of the COVID-19 positive cases in the country are of those pilgrims returning from Iran and who were kept together at the Taftan border without proper arangements.

“We admit that the conditions in which pilgrims were kept at the Taftan border were not ideal,” Dr Zafar Mirza, special advisor to prime minister on health, had said. Earlier, Mirza himself had visited the area and claimed that they had set up a proper screening system and quarantine facilities. However, owing to the failure of the quarantine at Taftan, the provinces were compelled to develop quarantine facilities of their own for the pilgrims who returned to their respective provinces.

Another policy which the federal government reviewed within days after the NSC meeting was regarding air travel. The NSC had earlier decided to restrict international flights to three major airports only. The government changed this decision with the condition that every international traveller should present a COVID-19 negative test report certificate. The policy is under severe criticism and, according to the federal aviation minister, is expected to be discussed in a special meeting in the near future.

In the beginning, the government was accused of trying to hide the number of coronavirus positive cases. The Sindh government set the precedence of holding regular pressers to update the people regarding the situation.

Till now, the government policy is not clear regarding the containment of the virus. There is a lack of proper quarantine facilities and mass testing to mitigate the disease. The government is not willing to test all passengers arriving into the country and is looking to pass the buck to respective provinces despite the fact that in provinces like Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan there is a lack of proper facilities. Unless the government adopts a proactive interventional policy, the country is in for worse times ahead.

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

Coronavirus: Pakistan struggling to ensure proper quarantine facilities amid an exponential growth in cases