Struggling with SOPs

The manpower at district administrations has not increased but the workload has

A 55-year-old banker from Lahore lost his life due to respiratory complications on May 23, the day after Eid. He had been a patron of an imambargah in Lahore, and had attended the Yaum-e-Ali procession from Mochi Gate to Bhati Gate along with his three children. A close relative told The News on Sunday that on coming down with fever and respiratory issues on the eve of Eid, he was tested for coronavirus on the insistence of some relatives and friends. “The result, ‘positive’, became available after two days. By that time the family had already buried him,” says the relative. He recalls that the deceased had told him all talk of coronavirus was an international plot to stop observance of religious rituals.

The next day, public health officials visited the residence, tested the entire family and two days later, issued quarantine orders for everybody in the wake of ‘positive’ reports. The family continues to insist that the virus couldn’t have been contracted at the massive gathering. They say they might have got it from a grocery store, a visit to the nearby barber shop or a funeral he attended on May 19.

“That’s the problem with the virus. You never know its origin, and yet we hardly try to avoid it,” says Dr Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s special assistant on health. “In my view, most people get infected because they behave as if the virus doesn’t exist. There is a tendency to flout the SOPs,” he tells TNS.

Amer Ahmed Ali, Islamabad’s chief commissioner, says that his teams are working round the clock to enforce SOPs in public places. He says all of his officers have been made available to the masses.

Capt Anwaarul Haq, Rawalpindi’s deputy commissioner, tells TNS that fines are regularly imposed on violators of SOPs. He says that shops and public places are under surveillance adding that district administration teams have marked out places for people to maintain physical distancing.

This, however, is not an easy task.

“Five out of 30 SHOs of Rawalpindi have contracted coronavirus. They are my field staff. I appeal to the public to understand that this virus is real and they have to adopt precautions,” says Dr Sohail Habib Tajik, the Rawalpindi RPO.

“In my view, most people got infected because they behaved as if the virus did not exist. There is a tendency to flout the SOPs,” says Dr Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s special assistant on health.

Grassroots officials of district administration say that while their manpower has not increased their workload has increased manifold. Complaints and instructions continue buzzing their mobile phones through various digital portals in addition to their routine office work. All of this, they say, looks well on Powerpoint presentations made before the prime minister but SOPs cannot be enforced until and unless stakeholders are taken on board at the time of making decisions.

Hamza Shafqaat, the Islamabad DC, says so far 5,000 coronavirus patients have been detected in the federal capital and the city has a 1.2 percent death rate, which is at a par with some developed countries and lower than most parts of Pakistan. “We have conducted more than 50,000 tests, which are more than those conducted in the GB, the AJK and Balochistan put together. We have done massive sampling and formed 50 teams which visit houses of people suspected of being infected.”

Shafqaat is active on social media and issues guidelines on Twitter and Facebook keeping the masses aware of the SOPs. Some days ago, 600 cases were reported in a single day, he says, adding that they continued to ensure SOPs were aggressively implemented following which, on Wednesday, the number of new cases had come down to 170.

At the onset of the virus, he says, people did not take awareness seriously. But now, he claims, the Tiger Force and volunteers have also become active. “We have started slapping fines and sealing markets. The enforcement is yielding results,” he says. Criticising the media for dedicating more airtime to celebrity controversies than the pandemic, he says, quarantine and hospital activities should be shown to people so that they are educated about the SOPs.

Speaking to TNS, Aamir Zulfiqar, the Islamabad IGP, says that he has N95 masks but does not wear these as his force – the jawans standing on roads exposed to the public – do not have them. He says it is his responsibility to protect the people and his force from the disease.

Psychologist Nosheen Sabahat says that SOPs is an oft ill-used term which doesn’t stir any reaction among the public because of the government’s ambiguous policy.

A similar sentiment is echoed by Dr Muhammad Zaman, the chairman of Sociology Department at Quaid-i-Azam University. He says that due to inconsistent policies of the government there is chaos. “People are confused,” he says adding that “many patients try to hide. Once they are traced, they flee quarantines.”

The clarity with which the government is trying to control the pandemic now should have been there all along, he says. “The society will take at least six months to return to its ‘normal’,” he says.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Struggling with SOPs: Manpower at district administrations has not increased but the workload has