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Dawn Editorial 23 May 2020

PIA tragedy

AT the time of writing, rescuers were going through the debris of the PIA Airbus which crashed in Karachi on Friday, looking for survivors and, possibly, clues that could indicate the cause of the disaster.
Hopes of saving some lives were raised because of the miraculous escape of at least two passengers.
The PIA flight from Lahore was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew.
The evidence so far shows that the plane ran into trouble moments from its destination.
Capt Sajjad Gul lost contact with ground control when his aircraft was hovering around 150m.
Soon afterwards, the aircraft — which could have been carrying many more passengers had a Covid-19 social-distancing regime not been in place — crashed close to the Jinnah International Airport.
That the aircraft hit a residential area, causing mayhem on the ground, has added to the tragedy.
Consequently, as people tried to get an idea of the number of dead and injured on the plane and their names, there were also inquiries about those who were not travelling on the plane but whose dwellings had been hit.
The fact that the plane crashed in a neighbourhood raises a crucial question: do houses and buildings situated so close to a busy aircraft landing spot in the country meet the legal requirements.
Or have they been allowed to mushroom in typical Pakistani manner, with the buyers of the built property paying less because of the risk they courted on a daily basis? Perhaps more urgently asked were the questions relating to the condition of the aircraft.
True to form and post-haste, pure speculation masquerading as analyses was proudly paraded before a stunned audience.
This was yet more proof of our tendency to jump to conclusions before all the facts are known.
The aircraft was unfit, said some. Others added that the entire PIA fleet was obsolete.
There was some observations that were more to the point such as the possibility of a malfunctioning landing gear or a bird hit.
But in a country not known for releasing inquiry reports into air crashes, the eagerness to pass judgement was most painful.
The trophy went to none other than the PIA chief who stood ‘reassuringly’ outside an aircraft that was to apparently fly him to the site of the crash and provided his first impressions about what might have happened immediately before the crash.
He said the pilot was told that the runways were clear for landing, wondering why the captain decided to make another circle before approaching it.
One hopes that this was not an insinuation that the crash occurred due to pilot error.
That may or may not have been the case, but speculation will not help matters.
We will only know what happened when the aviation authorities conduct a thorough inquiry into the tragedy — and make their report public.


Grim numbers

IF commercial activity and the enthusiastic queues outside stores are anything to go by, it appears that both the government and the public have largely accepted the coronavirus as a non-issue. While there was an attempt by authorities to limit commercial activity earlier, the Punjab government has extended the timings for malls and markets across the province until 10pm for Eid shoppers. Eid shopping crowds and the resumption of nationwide train services, too, are strong indicators that many in Pakistan have attempted to go back to ‘business as usual’ — even as the daily cases climb and healthcare professionals sound the alarm. The numbers remain grim and the graph for daily new cases continues to show a steady increase. Covid-19 infections have crossed 50,000, with over 1,000 deaths. In Sindh, at least seven doctors and five policemen have passed away from the virus. In the media fraternity, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of at least three journalists and infected scores of others. Despite the very real — and potentially fatal — threat from the virus, authorities have shown their eagerness to reopen the economy out of concern that extended lockdowns will affect daily wagers and negatively impact the economy.
The consequences of the government’s gamble will be visible in the coming weeks. Even as infection rates climb, congregations continue in mosques, and many blatantly violate the government’s SOPs. Despite several pleas by provincial authorities, there is little hope that Eid prayers and congregations will respect the distancing SOPs. In these circumstances, the only hope is that the government is using its time to build its healthcare and testing capacity. The government has justified its decision to reopen by saying that Pakistan’s figures are ‘much better than countries in the West’ and that perhaps populations in South Asia have some miracle, unproven immunity. Across the border in India and Iran, which have comparable weather, a high prevalence of BCG vaccinations and a young population, the numbers paint an alarming picture. Sweden, which many lockdown detractors liberally use as an example, has reported the highest coronavirus death rate per capita. Given the effect of the virus on our neighbours and the established dangers as proved by renowned hospitals and scientific organisations, complacency and ignorance are certainly dangerous strategies. As recent events have proven, complacent countries — even those with far more sophisticated and well-funded healthcare systems — have suffered. Authorities ought to realise this and prepare the healthcare sector for a dire situation.


Changing face of sports

SPORTS has been a conspicuous casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Since last December, the fear of the unknown has been haunting athletes and sports administrators across the world. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 proved to be the last straw, leading sports bodies everywhere to shut down all activity until the time normality was restored. Having said that, the estimated financial losses due to inaction and mounting levels of insecurity and frustration within the sports fraternity have led to the resumption of the German soccer league Bundesliga and a few others in Europe, besides some baseball leagues in the Far East. Such defiant moves, however, have triggered a debate all around because of the risks involved. Many players are wary of taking to the field, as the situation is still not normal even with infection rates falling in parts of the world. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of fans have scoffed at the idea of not being allowed to witness the action firsthand as their favourite teams gear up for contests in empty stadiums.
There are massive financial challenges if sports activities continue to be at a standstill any longer. For instance, in less than two months of no activity, giant set-ups such as Premier League football in England and Cricket Australia are said to be fighting for survival amid fears of going bankrupt. The parent bodies of various sports as well as administrative set-ups, therefore, are very much inclined to accept the resumption of games in empty stadiums as the only way out, simply because there is too much at stake. With broadcasters, who dish out billions of dollars in TV contracts to teams and clubs, vociferously backing the idea, it is most likely to be adopted as the new normal in sports, at least for now. Though fans are an integral component of the game, they will hopefully come around to the idea of watching matches on TV for their own and their teams’ safety.


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