First reluctance and then incomplete lockdown has failed to achieve the desired objectives

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Failure to plan a uniform strategy prolongs Pakistan’s fight against COVID19 Pandemic
First reluctance and then incomplete lockdown 
has failed to achieve the desired objectives
Politicians and everybody else should stop playing as Doctor
and Listen to the Experts  to overcome this crisis to control
morbidity and mortality related to this pandemic

Karachi: Failure of the politicians and the Federal, Provincial Governments in Pakistan to plan a uniform strategy to control COVID19 pandemic has prolonged our fight against this virus which it now appears will last for a couple of months. It will also bring with it enormous social and economic problems pushing millions of people below the poverty line, resulting in unemployment of millions of people besides putting an unprecedented pressure on the not so developed health infrastructure. The number of tests being performed daily throughout the country is still not sufficient but still the number of new cases are increasing with every passing day and so is the case of reported deaths due to COID19. As per WHO daily situation report released on May 13, 2020, the total number of confirmed COVID cases all over the world are 4 088 848 while the number of confirmed deaths stand at Total deaths 283 153.

In Pakistan as per the NDMA, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID19 as on May 13th are 34,336 while the number of confirmed deaths are 737. So far a total of 3, 17,699 tests have been performed all over the country. Looking at the infection rate, we have not yet reached the peak and may not see the curve being flattened for the next few weeks before it starts decreasing. However, the authorities decisions to relax lockdown which has been given the name of “Smart Lockdown” it is feared will further spread the infection putting lot of pressure on the existing healthcare facilities. On the whole the way we have tackled this problem cannot be termed satisfactory. The politicians, government functionaries and everybody else need to stop playing as “Doctor”. Let the authorities listen to the experts’ advice and heed it too if we have to win this war otherwise we may be facing a still major disaster. Let us hope and pray that it does not happen.

The government of Pakistan got couple of months to plan for this tragedy but if did not take the COVID19 Pandemic seriously. In the beginning there was a reluctance but later when it did decide to go for the much needed lockdown it was too little too late. According to one of the public health experts it was a joke. Whether we see from the way the authorities handled the case of returning Zaireens from Iran at Taftan Border in Baluchistan to the Tableeghi Jamat Ijtimah, of closing of international borders including flights, it left much to be desired. If it was not enough, those fighting on the front lines i.e the healthcare professionals were not treated with respect and dignity. They were not provided the Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs), N95 masks, the testing facilities were not adequate and when they demanded the PPEs they were lathi charges in Quetta, arrested and put in Jail. Those protesting at Lahore were also not treated well though, there was no major untoward incident because the police high ups eventually decided to handle the situation intelligently and let the HCPs register their protest. Similar situation was seen in other major cities of Punjab like Multan and Rawalpindi. First the Punjab Health Department refused to listen to the protesting HCPs but then they had no other option but to negotiate and enter into an agreement with them to meet some of their demands including reinstatement of those who were arrested, suspended, terminated during the earlier protest.

Doctors who got infected while treating COVID19 patients at PIMS Islamabad were forced to come to the duty and continue to look after the patients who eventually infected may of their other colleagues. It was after the Video shared on the media by one of the infected lady doctors who was confined in a room without a bathroom that the hospital authorities decided to close the section of the hospital and put all the infected healthcare professionals into quarantine. The situation was no better in Khyber PK and Sindh as well where the HCPs kept on demanding provision of PPEs and N95 masks for all the HCPs looking after these infected patients. Till May 13th over five hundred doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians have got infected all over the country and some doctors, nurses have also lost their lives serving these patients. It was too late when the government eventually announced and issued notification to provide financial assistance to the HCPs who get infected and those who die offering them the priviliges of a Shaheed. In the meantime to appreciate the services of those HCPs who are fighting on front lines, members of the society and government functionaries besides celebrities in different walks of life have paid them rich tributes and keep on praising their heroic efforts which will no doubt boost their moral to look after these patients with devotion and dedication.

On the other hand, those put in isolation and quarantine have also protested the way they were being treated. Those kept at an Isolation Quarantine centre at Lahore came out to record their protest. This also shows the problems the authorities are facing to keep the ever increasing number of infected patients in isolation and quarantine. A proposal to keep them in home isolation with some conditions has now been approved to overcome the shortage of dedicated beds. Confused and contradictory statements from politicians and government functionaries have made the situation worse. It was not only the opposition which was pointing at the failings of the government but it also included their own people like Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who criticized the performance of Punjab Health Department as regards the state of affairs at Nishtar Medical University Hospital Multan and speaker of the Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi who even called a special session of the provincial assembly to discuss the Corona virus issue. While PTI leadership in Sindh has accused the Sindh Government of inflating the figures of COVID19 confirmed infected cases, Federal Minister Dr. Asad Umar has termed this as an irresponsible statement which is enough to show the confused mindset at different levels.

Healthcare Professionals including the leadership of PMA and PIMA has time and again drawn the attention of the government to the grave situation urging them to move cautiously while relaxing lockdown and opening of business but so far they have not been successful. Looking at the world scenario it is evident that those countries like Italy, Spain, UK and USA which did not take the COVID19 seriously in the beginning and were late in taking measures have to face the music with the number of infected cases running into Millions and deaths in thousands. On the other hand, countries like South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Germany which were quick to impose strict lockdown immediately and start massive screening through tests to identify the infected cases, have fared much better as regards their number of confirmed infected cases as well as deaths. Let us learn from the experience of other countries rather than making our own experiments before it is too late.

So far there is no cure for this disease and no vaccine is likely to become available soon though a number of countries are working on various projects. In Pakistan too some research studies with different drugs, treatment with plasma therapy have been initiated at various centers but they are all experimental. The coming days will see many people suffering from mental health disorders and its number is likely to increase manifold due to various reasons. COVID19 has also become a stigma in the society and not many people are coming forward to get them tested. The only effective remedy for the time being is to implement social distancing, use of masks, disinfectants, use of healthy balanced diet to improve immunity and to refrain from going out unless it is essential. People need to be educated to follow these guidelines while the businessmen should also be forced to abide by the agreed SOPs while running their establishments which have been opened to ease the economic pressure. Efforts needs to be made to protect the jobs, keep the business running and gradual improvement in economic activity rather than turning the vast majority of the population as “Beggars” by distributing financial assistance and Rations. There are many other better ways to help the poor like waiving off the Gas and Electricity bills of the poor which besides offering much needed relief to millions of people will also not require any major administrative measures to implement such schemes. The only problem is that such initiatives will not provide any photo opportunity to the politicians and government functionaries.

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