While the situation appears to be under control, many doubt the capacity of local laboratories
The Manga village in Mardan has been locked down for over two weeks with more than 200 policemen deployed on roads leading to the town. Sixty seven people in the village have tested positive for coronavirus apparently from coming into contact with a single patient who had returned from Umrah. On his return, he had hosted a lunch reception attended by hundreds of people including his family, fellow villagers and people from neighbouring towns. A few days later he tested positive for the disease and then passed away.
The crisis has just begun. His entire family and village were quarantined and 122 people were tested. 67 of them have tested positive, some results are awaited. Those infected include the Mardan superintendent of police in charge od Operations, an inspector and an MPA.
The government is trying to prevent further spread of the virus from the Manga village to ensure that there is no Patient 31-like spread. (A 61-year-old lady in South Korea, now known as Patient 31, is considered responsible for accelerating the spread of the virus that had been largely controlled for over a month recording only 20 patients. The figure doubled after Patient 31 attended a service at the local church. In the following week it reached 1,000 has not stopped growing.)
“At least two DSPs and four SHOs are deployed in the area to supervise the policemen. Accommodation for these cops has also been arranged at the local post so they don’t interact with the rest of the force. The supply of ration in the locked down villages is being managed by a committee with help from local administration and police,” says Sajjad Khan, the Mardan district police officer.
In Peshawar, seven streets housing more than 3,350 people have been locked down after reports of positive cases. The situation appears to be under control so far. However, many doubt the capacity of local laboratories, believing that the number might be higher.
In a series of tweets, Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the provincial minister for health and finance, has hinted at the possibility of a higher number of patients. “We are constantly improving; scaling up the testing capacity; improving PPE stock and distribution; increasing available beds and ventilators; training and increasing staff; mitigating economic impact; ensuring food supply,” he tweeted. “But to have the time to do all this, we need to have the most concerted effort ever to socially distance and establish new behaviours, so that we can operate with less risk in a post-corona world.”
The government has set up quarantine centres across the province while beds have been reserved in all the major and even smaller hospitals to cope with an emergency.
Since businesses are closed due to the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of daily wage workers are unemployed. The government has announced an amount of Rs 5,000 – Rs 3,000 from federal government and Rs 2,000 for the provincial government – per person for over 1.9 million daily wagers and people from low-income households for three months.
According to Ajmal Wazir, a spokesman for the KP government, an amount of Rs 8 billion has been released to the Health Department for purchase of equipment and Rs 6 billion has been released to the Relief and Rehabilitation Department. To provide relief to the traders an exemption of Rs 5 billion on provincial taxes has been approved. Wazir also said the testing facilities in Peshawar had been upgraded to increase the number of daily tests.
The writer is a former president of the Khyber Union of Journalists. He can be reached on Twitter @JavedAzizKhan