Something is amiss at the Expo

May 10, 2020

Frequent protests by those quarantined at places like the Expo Centre field hospital have put a big question mark on the overall performance of the city administration

(Above and bottom) The government had claimed that it was going to be a state of the art healthcare facility for Covid-19 patients. — Photos by Rahat Dar

No matter how many tall claims are made by the city administration, about the provision of what it calls the best possible medical treatment to Covid-19 infected patients, the frequent protests staged by the quarantined at places like Expo Centre field hospital have put a big question mark on the performance of the administration.

The protests raised many an eyebrow, and more than suggest that something is rotten in the state of affairs at such quarantine facilities set up across the city in the wake of the spread of the pandemic.

Moreover, a majority of patients claim that the figures provided to the media regarding the number of deaths from coronavirus and the number of infected people are misleading. Their claim is substantiated by the contradictory test results carried out by government as well as private labs. There have been incidents where a patient tested negative at a lab and at the same time was declared positive in another lab.

In April, the Punjab government laid out a 1,000-bed field hospital at the Expo Centre, in order to meet the rapidly increasing number of Covid-19 cases. The government had claimed that it was a state of the art facility. But clearly, something was not right. Those quarantined here often got out of control. In a recent incident, the outraged patients tried to break open the door of the premises, and damaged the window panes and everything else that came in the way. They were protesting against what they called mismanagement, delays in testing, meals, and poor hygiene conditions at the facility.

Around 700 people quarantined at the Expo Centre are said to be either asymptomatic or having only mild symptoms of the disease. Their main grouse is that tests are being delayed, perhaps due to a shortage of kits. This forces them to stay at the hospital for longer than may be necessary. Some of them are reported as complaining that the hospital administration has held them back unnecessarily, despite the fact that they had tested negative.

On April 30, the protestors came out of the building. The police deployed there tried to stop them while maintaining a reasonable distance from them. A video that is doing the rounds on social media shows the patients criticising the government. They claim that the services provided at the hospital are inadequate and not up to basic health standards. They are also seen blaming everything on the incompetence of the government.

Soon afterwards Prof Dr Asad Aslam, the Mayo Hospital chief executive who is also supervising the management of the Expo Centre Field Hospital, arrived at the scene along with the MS, Dr Tahir Khalil, and talked with the protestors.

Some of the protestors, who included some members of the Tableeghi Jama’at, told the management that they had got their tests done twice at a private lab and the results had been negative each time. Yet, they said, they were forced to quarantine at the centre.

Complaints of a similar nature have been pouring in from other field hospitals and special centres as well.

“Sometimes we are told that we have tested positive, and sometimes our results come back negative. This has been going on for over 20 days now,” says Muhammad Ali, one of the many quarantined at the Expo Centre. “The only people who’ve been allowed to leave the place are those who paid Rs 8,000 to the private lab for testing.”

Ali insists that the field hospital is “a living hell for us”. He complains of filthy washrooms — “They don’t even have soap, let alone better sanitisers,” he adds.

Around 700 people quarantined at the Expo Centre are said to be either asymptomatic or having mild symptoms of the disease. Their main grouse is that tests are being delayed, perhaps due to a shortage of kits. This forces them to stay at the hospital for longer.

Razzaq Ahmed, a patient who has been kept at the Expo Centre Field Hospital, raises another issue. He says that the food provided to the patients is either stale or of poor quality. “We have complained time and again, but no one seems to pay heed to our concerns,” he adds.

The protestors demand that the government should let them go if they can’t be taken better care of. They would be better off quarantining at home, they insist, adding that living in these conditions will cause them one problem after another.

DROP CAP

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar took notice of the protests, and directed the concerned authorities to provide the best facilities to coronavirus infected patients on a priority basis.

He also sought a reply from the health minister and the health secretary, and ordered a probe into the incident.

Commenting on what happened at the Expo Centre, the deputy commissioner of Lahore Danish Afzal says that a law and order situation was created when some members of the Tableeghi Jama’at and other confirmed patients of the disease refused to stay at the centre and broke open the main door in a bid to leave the premises.

According to him, under the standard operating procedures (SOPs), the coronavirus infected patients can only be discharged after their test reports have come back negative twice. “Since these people had tested negative only once, it would have been risky to allow them to go home,” he adds.

The DC is of the view that some people admitted at the Expo Centre Field Hospital had lodged protests as many of them came from poor backgrounds and were the only breadwinners in their families. “They wanted to rejoin their families so as to be able to take care of them.”

He also reveals that “chances of error in the results of Cornovirus tests are 25 to 30 percent.”

Dr Asad Aslam seconds him, saying that two negative tests coming back in the same day aren’t considered. “There must be a gap of at least 24 hours between two tests. Secondly, if a patient has tested positive after his first test came back negative, they have to stay back at the centre for another five days.”

He says that initially, patients were allowed to get their Coronavirus test done from private labs, but now this facility has been withdrawn.

So far, 700-odd patients have been quarantined at the Expo Centre Field Hospital. Most of them had recently travelled abroad. Of these, more than 400 patients have returned to their homes.

“Basically, the problem started when a large number of patients were kept at the Expo Centre at the same time,” says the DC. “These patients came from different backgrounds and had different eating habits. Some of them weren’t comfortable with the menu and the meal timings. For instance, some demanded tea and bread for breakfast while others wanted chapatis and curry. Likewise, sometimes a number of people needed to use the toilets at the same time.”

However, Afzal says, the patients have been asked to wait in queues. For their leisure time activities, they have been provided with indoor games.

The deputy commissioner rejects the allegation that any of his relatives have been awarded a food supply contract for the Expo Centre facility. “A philanthropist organisation has been providing food to the patients, free of cost,” he says.

As for the fatalities, Afzal says that so far there has been no death at the Expo Centre facility.

Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid says that an inquiry has been initiated into the Expo Centre incident. “It is premature to say anything about it right now. So, please wait till the inquiry concludes,” she adds.


The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Coronavirus: Something is amiss at the Expo