Post Covid, is safety still first?

August 23, 2020

As the country reopens almost entirely, concerns regarding adherence to Covid safety measures remain


“Covid-19? Isn’t that over now? The virus seems to be all but gone,” remarks a shopkeeper in Lahore.

His small grocery store sits in the middle of a dense locality, serving not only the nearby houses but also several who stop by because of its location close to Ghazi Road.

A cursory glance reveals that the staff haveno masks on. The use of sanitisers and the store’s sanitation itself are a question mark. The customers are no different; only a handful walk in with masks as the majority goes about its day without any protection.

Since August 10, Pakistan has largely reverted to the way things were before Covid-19 ever became a problem. The country continues to hold its position as one of the worst-hit in the world. It has barely managed to drop from the 12th position to the 15th in the last couple of weeks.

“When things went under lockdown in March, we were given SOPs, but no notification has been sent to us for the reopening. Things are back to normal,” the shopkeeper says.

The situation isn’t much different for larger shops and malls around the city, where few are using masks – and of those sporting the protective gear, some choose to wear it on their chins or below their nose, defeating the purpose entirely.

One multinational office surveyed by The News on Sunday revealed that the only SOPs received had been at the time of lockdown. “Information on hygiene, how many people were allowed in the office, etc was shared with us then. But nothing new has been sent to us,” an administrative worker says.

The company takes up several floors in the same building, and the employees number in hundreds.

If one were to look at public spaces, protection from Covid-19 has been left to the will of the individual.

Aasma Mushtaq, a senior banker, has been trying to maintain safe habits since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I do not feel safe at all,” she says of public spaces. “No matter how much I try to maintain distance, people are not bothered,” she continues.

“Some brands have ensured that SOPs are followed; you can’t enter without a mask, and they check the temperature and sanitise the shopper. However, most places are operating with zero SOPs. The majority is back to business as usual,” she adds.

Aasma’s family has developed its own rules for safety and will be refraining from going to public spaces till the end of the year.

Talking about the current situation, Dr Rabia A Ghafoor says that while her hospital has been following strict SOPs, the same is not true for many other places. Her hospital has made masks mandatory and waiting areas have been rearranged so that people are not in close contact. However, the situation is different for many other private as well as government hospitals.

“Getting life back to normal is a necessity, especially for daily wagers. But ensuring the regulation of social distancing, use of masks and hand hygiene is a must,” she notes, adding that the only way any SOPs will be followed is if they are accompanied with fines for non-compliance.

A doctor at a private hospital in Lahore says that the OPD is fully functional and SOPs are not being followed. “There is no requirement for masks and social distancing is a term unknown to patients. No protocol is being followed,” she says.

A quick survey by TNS reveals that waiting areas at hospitals are mostly populated by people with no masks. While doctors are sitting behind shields or wearing all manners of protective gear, just outside their offices there is a storm of people who seem to have never heard of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, despite the general apathy, the Punjab Primary and Secondary Health Care Department continues to issue warnings that the pandemic is not yet over.

Fresh instructions have been issued for places like cinemas and restaurants on how to maintain safety and hygiene. For instance, an August 7 notification from the department notifies all commissioners, deputy commissioners, chief executive district officers, district health authorities, and more importantly, the Punjab Food Authority of the SOPs required to control the spread of Covid-19.

A notification was issued the same day to address educational institutions. Marriage halls continue to remain closed, and religious congregations still must get approval before any organised activity.

Unfortunately, the new notifications do not seem to have reached their target audience, as Pakistan seems to have moved on to new problems, ignoring the ever-present threat of Covid-19.

Since August 10, between 500 -750 people have been infected on a daily basis – these are not numbers one should easily ignore given that only a few weeks ago the burden on healthcare had been so heavy that hospitals had entirely run out of room for patients.

People cannot be expected to observe safety measures, Dr Rabia notes, as she delivers a chilling reminder for those not taking coronavirus seriously: “It is best to observe precaution. You might be young and asymptomatic, but you can be the cause of death for a loved one.” 

The writer is a journalist and researcher based in Lahore. She tweets at @luavut

Post Covid, is safety still first?