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Dawn Editorial 2 February 2020

Stranded in China

AN infectious disease snowballing in intensity across the globe and inadequate health facilities at home to prevent its spread — the coronavirus outbreak poses a serious dilemma for Pakistan.
The concerns are centred on approximately 30,000 Pakistanis resident in China, particularly 500-plus students in Wuhan — ground zero for the epidemic — and whether the Pakistani government should evacuate them.
Read: Govt stays firm on decision to not repatriate Pakistanis from virus-hit China
Four individuals among these are diagnosed as being infected with the coronavirus and are under treatment in China. Videos have emerged of frightened students in Wuhan pleading to be reunited with their families in Pakistan. However, the Pakistani government has taken the position that it will not bring these expats home in light of the risk that unwitting carriers of the virus could lead to a spread of the disease in this country.
Certainly, the state has valid reasons to be concerned.
The virus is spreading around the world at an exponential rate: at least 22 countries have been affected, with the total number of patients numbering around 12,000. More than 250 have died.
Granted, the fatality rate is not very high, but this is clearly a transmissible infection.
While acknowledging the distress of the stranded Pakistanis and the fact that they should have been provided government assistance much earlier, pragmatism must dictate the state’s response — at least in the short term.
Given our shambolic health infrastructure and far from robust infection-control practices, our high population density and hospitals teeming with people, the conditions are ripe for an infection to spread like wildfire. In the event of such a development, the health system would be overburdened beyond its capacity to cope, leading to knock-on effects in other areas of life.
That said, it is regrettable that facilities in this country are not equal to the task of properly managing quarantine requirements, an important aspect of a well-functioning health system.
There have been a number of global viral outbreaks in recent years; a country that learns from experience would have had quarantine protocols in place at entry points into the country.
Consider that the student who managed to return from Wuhan on his own initiative has been placed in an isolation ward at a private hospital. However, isolation is a public health practice used to restrict the movement of people diagnosed with a communicable disease.
On the other hand, quarantine is meant to separate from the general population those who appear to be well but may have been exposed to an infection, such as the aforementioned student. Moreover, quarantine calls for a dedicated facility — rather than a hospital — where ostensibly healthy individuals can be kept under observation for a period of time so as to ensure they are not infected. In the long run, then, the government must set up such facilities in the event a deadly virus does make its way into the country.


After Brexit

AFTER years of vehemently polarised debates, the United Kingdom exited the European Union on Jan 31, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new relationship. While there were celebrations among the Leave proponents, many others found themselves reliving the shock of the 2016 referendum result which plunged the future of the two entities into uncertainty. As the clock struck midnight in Brussels, British diplomats were locked out of Brussels’ internal databases and prevented from accessing diplomatic cables from 139 EU delegations around the world. Online EU maps were updated to reflect the divorce after a 47-year union, with the UK being marked in grey.
As the UK begins a transition period, little will change immediately. Until Dec 31, 2020, the UK will mainly stick to EU rules. Although British citizens are no longer EU citizens, over the next 11 months, they will be able to travel around the EU as freely as they did before the exit. However, the big challenges will come when the transition period ends and the status quo changes. On the EU side, there are many who have expressed scepticism about the possibility of a deal being hammered out in just 11 months. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to do so, but manufacturing lobby groups in his country have urged more clarity. The UK and EU are seeking to secure a free trade agreement that regulates their terms of trade, employment standards and environmental rules and other bilateral issues. The reality, however, is that trade deals are tedious and can take years to conclude and implement. If the two sides are unable to reach a deal by the end of 2020, the UK will have to brace itself for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ — which essentially means an increase in food prices and disruption to medicines and other goods. Before the formal departure, EU leaders had warned Britain that life outside the bloc would never match the benefits it enjoyed as a member. The EU commission president has said it is up to the UK to decide how close a relationship it wants. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, said the differences between the two will widen if the UK diverges from the notion of a single market. In these circumstances, there are serious challenges ahead for Prime Minister Johnson and his government. He will have to convince the people that the Brexit campaign was in the best interest of the British public.


Making Quetta safe

QUETTA will get its police command and control system in June this year as part of the Safe City Project. Once it becomes operational, the city police will be able to constantly monitor sensitive locations in the city with the help of 400 closed-circuit TV cameras. The project will go a long way in helping police improve their performance and curb frequent militant attacks against civilians and security personnel. Balochistan is facing multiple security challenges, which have adversely affected its people and economy in the last one and a half decades. In some parts, the authorities are trying to suppress the militant Baloch movement; in others, they are struggling to eliminate extremist religious groups involved in sectarian killings, especially in the provincial capital. But violent groups such as the banned TTP are still active along with separatists said to be funded by hostile countries. The uncertain security conditions prevailing in Balochistan have made it a dangerous place in which to live, travel and invest, besides putting a huge financial burden on its coffers because of the steep increase in the expenditure on law and order.
Indeed, security conditions in the province have somewhat improved in recent years because of security initiatives undertaken with the help of the federal government and the army to train police and improve intelligence gathering. But a lot still needs to be done to make Balochistan’s cities and towns safe for residents and visitors. In 2019, for example, the province suffered 84 major terrorist attacks, including 22 in Quetta alone, in which at least 151 civilians and personnel of law-enforcement agencies lost their lives along with 20 suspected militants. Though the number of such attacks had fallen by 27pc and fatalities by 52pc from the previous year, the very fact that such incidents have not stopped leaves little room for complacency. Initiatives like the Safe City Project can help avert and curb such incidents. The provincial government as well as the intelligence agencies must remain vigilant and strengthen cooperation for better intelligence gathering in order to make the province a peaceful place.


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