Govt Abandoned Pilgrims Returning From Iran. Now Taftan Has Become Pakistan's Wuhan

Govt Abandoned Pilgrims Returning From Iran. Now Taftan Has Become Pakistan's Wuhan
To place people in quarantine as a mandatory requirement makes no sense when all the measures that are mandatory for quarantine are not being taken, writes Muhammad Nafees.

Two revelations this week have enhanced the trust and hope of the people regarding the efforts of the government in tackling the serious threat posed by the Coronavirus spread in the country. The first revelation came from the Adviser to the PM, Tania Aidrus, who said, “We’re using cutting-edge tech to get ahead of the virus,”. Then came the announcement from a team of Punjab University scientists headed by Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology’s (CEMB) Prof Dr Muhammad Idrees. He claimed that a low-cost diagnostic kit to test suspected coronavirus patients has been developed. Although both of these announcements came without any substantial proof of their effectiveness, the people had no choice but to accept these claims at their face value because of the credibility of the people who had uttered them.

Unfortunately, the hope and trust faded as the number of affected patients trebled in less than 24 hours in the country. Most of the affected people were pilgrims who had returned from Iran and had been kept for days at the so-called Quarantine Camps at Taftan Border in Balochistan. The same day came out another confidence-building remark and that too from the man in charge of handling Coronavirus issue in the country – Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health. He said the current preventive measures adopted by his ministry are sufficient to control the spread of coronavirus in Pakistan, adding that the precautionary measures would be tightened up if the situation turns serious. What he meant by ‘serious situation’ was left to the imagination of those listening.

We all know that this is a pandemic and all countries, including Pakistan, are trying to take care of it as best as they can. However, the way the number of infected persons is growing throughout the world, it needs not mentioning that any sign of negligence from the responsible people is intolerable. The whole nation has to fight this menace collectively and it’s a national duty for all that any loopholes found in any area should be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities so that necessary improvements can be introduced and followed strictly.

Working in that spirit, we need to take a look at all the efforts made by the government to fight this threat. The exponential rise in the number of affected people points to serious negligence on part of the government in addressing the Coronavirus outbreak in the country. Taftan for Pakistan is like Wuhan for China as most of the infections are found to have had their link with the pilgrims arriving from Iran. The purpose of keeping these pilgrims at the camps, specially prepared for them by the Balochistan government at the Taftan border, was to keep them under observation for any sign of virus infection. What we are hearing now is that those pilgrims were left there unattended and uninvestigated for 14 days, creating a suitable environment for the virus to carry out its onslaught and thus push the infected people to a medical situation where their treatment becomes very challenging and life-threatening.

Once the news broke out about the pilgrims discovered with infections in Sukkur, the people living in tents at Taftan came out and staged a protest on March 16 and one of the protesters, Afzal Hussain, made a startling revelation: “I have been living with 74 other people since March 6 and none of us has been tested yet. What kind of quarantine is it?” On March 13, it was reported that around 2000 pilgrims were set to leave the quarantine tent city in Taftan after completing the mandatory 14-day isolation period at the Pakistan House. Two days before the pilgrims were allowed to leave the tent city in Taftan, the number of quarantined pilgrims had gone up to 4000. The number of pilgrims at the tent city is now reported to have increased to 9000. To place people in quarantine as a mandatory requirement makes no sense when all those measures that are mandatory for quarantine are not being taken. Who’s responsible for that – Balochistan government or the federal government?

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah pointed his fingers at the inhuman treatment of pilgrims saying, “Quarantine at borders is the constitutional responsibility of the federal government. It is most unfortunate that the government of Balochistan was expected to set up the quarantine, with literally zero help from Islamabad. A crisis cannot be averted until everyone acts responsibly.” Defending the efforts of the provincial government, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal proudly invited his counterparts from other provinces to visit the facilities at the border points and elsewhere in the province.

Who’s telling the truth – the protesters of the tent city or the CM of Balochistan? If Balochistan government was taking such good care of the pilgrims at the tents, how come the majority of the infected victims in Sindh and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa are found to have been from Taftan tents. Despite all this self-praise by Balochistan CM, the basic responsibility of keeping an eye on the spread of the virus is Dr Zafar Mirza’s, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, to ensure that necessary measures are taken at places suspected of being potential dugouts for the virus.

No other place in the country has such a large concentration of people who have migrated from Iran – the country worst affected by the Corona pandemic in the region after China. Putting in all the resources and equipment at Taftan camps should have been the main priority of the provincial and federal governments. Instead of following the examples of China, our government failed miserably to show its preparedness and ability to address the problem at the right place, at the right time. It’s gross negligence on part of the responsible people at the provincial and federal levels that cannot be forgiven. They are responsible for what we are witnessing now and what would occur in the future as well. Their negligence has exposed the whole nation to this threat to such a scale that the PM is now expressing the inability of the country to deal with this menace. Admitting our inability is one thing but nobody is going to take us seriously if we show such criminal negligence in handling our own affairs.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher. He is affiliated with the Center for Research and Security Studies as Senior Research Fellow. Earlier, he worked for a multi-national company GE Aviation, USA in Karachi for nearly three decades.