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Editorial | The Government Must Stop Attacking Experts Stating Facts About Covid-19

It would be wrong to single out just the religious lobby for its constant sabotage of Pakistan’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak. The federal government appears just as determined to set its face against medical expertise and civic good sense. For all its claims that the opposition is ‘politicising’ this crisis, the fact is that PM Imran Khan’s response to the pandemic is driven, above all, by partisan-political considerations.

Even in the PM’s telethon appearance today, aside from the usual displays of penitence from government-aligned clergy, there was little to inspire confidence in citizens. In fact, he took the opportunity for a schoolboyish potshot at the Sindh government. They lack confidence and have lost their nerve, the PM informs us, as he refers to their lockdown. The less said about this destructive hubris, the better.

In the past 48 hours, a torrent of criticism has flowed forth against the government’s Coronavirus policy. And this is truly informed dissent, not merely the opinions of talking-heads in the media. After doctors in Sindh, today doctors in Punjab have also been forced to make their concerns publicly known. They have pointed out that very soon the Coronavirus-induced public health crisis will reach unmanageable levels – assuming that we are not already there. Today, medical experts based in Punjab also clearly stated that they do not set much store by official figures for infections and deaths. This is something which many in the media already know.

Like all its populist-conservative political kin around the world, the ruling-party in Pakistan typically responds to criticism by questioning the expertise of the critics. And so, Shahbaz Gill of the PTI immediately went into attack mode, claiming that the doctors are playing ‘politics’. This is an appalling inversion of the facts on the ground: it is harmful politicisation when medical experts are attacked for doing their job: i.e giving a scientific assessment.

The underlying message being given to the ruling-party’s support base is that a doctor no longer remains one if they have a fundamental disagreement with the ruling party on a matter of public health.

Such authoritarian shenanigans are a cause for concern in ‘normal’ times, but in a crisis of this nature, they are monumental folly. Better sense will have to prevail immediately in the corridors of power, or else it is likely that we are all facing catastrophe.

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Naya Daur