EVEN as the pandemic wreaks havoc in other countries, Pakistan appears to have brought its Covid-19 figures under control and braved the so-called ‘peak’ without the catastrophically high fatalities and hospitalisations seen in Europe, the UK and now Brazil and the US. The data from the National Command and Operations Centre is encouraging: daily deaths and new cases appear to have fallen in the last four weeks and hospitalisations have come down since June. While the positivity ratio during mid-June — which is now deemed to have been the peak phase — was 23pc it is now reported at 7pc. Even the R0 number, indicating how contagious a disease is, now stands at 0.74 after clocking in at 1.5 in May. These figures are reassuring, as they show that, though post-Eidul Fitr cases, deaths and hospitalisations soared, later interventions and SOP enforcement prevented a doomsday scenario. As optimistic as the government may feel about the current downward curve, however, the ‘good news’ must be viewed with caution and should in no way validate a casual attitude towards tackling the coronavirus in the future. While it can be claimed that smart lockdowns are effective and restrictions on mass gatherings at wedding halls, cinema houses and restaurants have kept the curve low, there is a lot about the downward trajectory in Pakistan that is a mystery. A senior doctor, who has been advising the government, admitted as much when he said that much of where Pakistan stands now on the Covid-19 trajectory remains unexplained.
It is not really clear why the tide turned as even during the peak lockdown period, mask-wearing was not mandatory and worshippers were gathering in mosques. Questions about Pakistanis having some miracle immunity, a BCG vaccine link or the virus mutating into a less lethal version remain unanswered and ought to be scientifically explored. In neighbouring India, where climatic conditions, prevalence of BCG vaccinations and a younger population are comparable to Pakistan, the Covid-19 trajectory has been starkly different and more lethal.
With so much unknown, authorities must remain vigilant and reflect on what worked and what could have been done better. A centralised decision-making body which works with the provinces, the decision to enforce smart lockdowns and keep certain sectors shut and the initial mandatory testing of incoming travellers were good steps. However, the lowering of daily tests, the government’s foot-dragging on lockdowns and the mixed messaging on Covid-19 were clear errors. The next big test is around the corner with Eid and Muharram, two ‘super-spreading’ occasions where thousands may congregate and enforcement of SOPs will be challenging. The government must chalk out an appropriate mitigation strategy for these events and not waver in its commitment to keep the numbers low in the coming months. The numbers are low now but will not remain so if vigilance is relaxed.
A mother’s disability
RECENTLY, the Supreme Court took up the case of a disabled woman fighting for the custody of her child in Peshawar. Previously, the Peshawar High Court had set aside the decision of a family judge to grant custody of the child to the mother. Now, having overturned the high court’s decision, the apex court rightly pointed out that the mother’s disability did not impair her from carrying out her duties, and even condemned its mention in the high court’s verdict in the first place as being inherently discriminatory. The Supreme Court judges ordered that the child be handed over to his mother within a week. Their judgement and the concerns they raised are humane and recognise that the mother’s role is central to a child’s upbringing, regardless of any handicap, since disability does not diminish a mother’s status or her commitment to taking care of her child. She is not merely an agent of giving the child life and nourishment in the beginning of his existence, but also looks after his emotional well-being throughout his formative years. Furthermore, if women with disabilities are deemed incapable of participating in decision-making within their homes, or caring for their own families, what would their standing be in the public sphere? Pakistani women’s mobility is already restricted, and it is even more difficult for women with disabilities to overcome obstacles placed in their path at each turn, but this does not mean they should be denied their rights or a chance at personal fulfilment.
People with disabilities already face an uphill battle for income, respect and dignity. Stigma follows them throughout their lives, and even well-meaning gestures can come across as patronising, if society does not genuinely understand the concept of equality. According to UN estimates, approximately 15pc of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, which is defined as “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which … may hinder … full and effective participation in society”. Despite signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and having passed several laws to improve the welfare of the differently abled, while increasing their opportunities for employment, there is much more that needs to be done to ensure a more level playing field. If a person with disabilities is unable to reach their potential, it is not a personal failing, but a failure on the part of state and society.
KITE makers and kite flyers appear to be high on the hit list of the Lahore and Punjab police. They want stricter punishment to control a surge in the numbers of those who cannot stay away from the ‘horror’ sport. In the second week of July, Lahore’s CCPO wrote a letter to the IGP Punjab giving some eye-opening figures regarding the violation of rules to keep kite-flying in check. These curbs have progressively been tightened since the passage of the Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying Act. There has been a sudden increase in cases this year. In Lahore, there were 3,000 cases registered in 2019, as opposed to well over 8,000 in the first six months of 2020. It is obvious that confined to one’s home for several months because of Covid-19, revellers have thrown caution to the winds; unfortunately, there have been accidents, some of them fatal, where individuals have been injured by the sharp kite string. The CCPO had stated in the letter that the punishment for kite makers had to be enhanced to arrest the worrisome trend. The IGP has now requested the provincial government to amend the act so that it can prove an effective deterrent.
The recommendations sent in a letter to the additional home secretary propose a punishment of up to five years or Rs2m or both for kite and string manufacturers. At present, the ceiling stands at one year and Rs100,000. Yes, a kite in hand could set someone back by as much as Rs2m. But if someone is still persisting with kite flying, it cannot be simply put down to the power of passion. It is also an issue of lax law enforcement. Having said that, after all these years, they are many who do not see all kites as the harbingers of evil. The police, if they are well connected with the local community, should be able to curtail the supply of those that are dangerous, sending a message to manufacturers to check for safety before promoting their ware.