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Dawn Editorial 28 May 2020

Relentless rise in Covid-19 cases

THE relaxation in countrywide lockdowns, coupled with the government and superior judiciary’s mixed messaging about the coronavirus threat, seem to have induced the public to throw already barely existent caution to the wind. Scenes of zero socially distanced revelry, with scarcely a mask in sight, have marked Eid — an occasion when toned down celebrations this year would have been appropriate for more than one reason. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has warned that if the current trajectory of coronavirus cases persisted, “strict lockdowns” may have to be reimposed across the country.
There are now around 60,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Pakistan, a mere week after we reached the 50,000 milestone. This despite testing for the disease having dipped considerably during the festival holidays: from 16,387 on May 21, it came down to 10,049 on Eid, and 7,252 the day after. Testing needs to be scaled up once again, and quickly. Moreover, the Tracking, Testing and Quarantine strategy must focus on areas where clusters have already been detected so the infection transmission rate can be locally contained. However, that we stand at this juncture — where health professionals are warning of hospitals rapidly approaching saturation point with Covid-19 patients — should surprise no one. The federal government has given selective attention to information. For instance, it has used the relaxation of lockdowns in several European countries to justify the correctness of its stance, arguing that even rich nations have realised that lockdowns are not the answer to the pandemic. However, it has conveniently ignored that these countries began to lift restrictions only after the ‘flattening of the curve’, thereby giving a breather to their over-stressed health systems.
This pandemic has cut a swathe across the globe; but Pakistan was not among the first countries to be badly affected. We could have been ahead of the game by observing how Iran, Italy and Spain were dealing with its fallout. However, the federal government has taken a muddled approach — indeed, a partisan approach where Sindh is concerned — instead of showing consistent, assured leadership based on empirical data rather than populist posturing. If, as Dr Mirza apprehends, strict lockdowns have to be reinstated, the government needs to be very clear about their parameters and impress upon the need for provinces to enforce them properly. The hemming and hawing thus far has reduced the concept of a lockdown to a joke — a dangerous one at that. This is the time to try and plug as many loopholes as possible. There are, for instance, reports the government is considering testing only symptomatic passengers from among those being repatriated from abroad. This is a highly risky strategy, given that many are arriving from countries where the virus is on a rampage. Each and every passenger must be tested. We simply cannot afford to be complacent.


Trauma of families

THE trauma and grief that the families, relatives, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives in the PIA plane crash in Karachi last Friday are going through cannot be expressed in words. There is very little that anyone can say or do to mitigate the unbearable pain they are experiencing. What has added to their agony is the unsympathetic attitude of the government and the PIA authorities as the affected families keep rushing from one hospital to another and from one mortuary to another to try and retrieve the remains of their loved ones. In between, they are required to go through a cumbersome process of verification and documentation involving police and other government agencies before they are handed over the remains of their loved ones for burial.
The bodies of most passengers on the fateful flight were burned beyond recognition. There is no way that the remains can be identified without a DNA test, the results of which may take some time to come. However, those who have lost their children, spouses and parents in the crash want speedy results and identification. A news report, which quoted Faisal Edhi, the head of the Edhi Foundation, as saying that at least 19 bodies were forcibly taken away from a hospital mortuary by relatives, shows how frustrating the dysfunctional system is proving itself to be for the distraught families. That may have put at risk the DNA testing process for identifying the deceased. Further, a video posted on social media shows a man, who lost his wife and three children in the tragic incident, calling upon Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene to cut the bureaucratic red tape; this reveals how the lack of trust between the federal and Sindh governments is jeopardising the DNA testing process and delaying the handing over of bodies to the grieving families. The ongoing debate about what might have led the plane to crash moments before landing seems to have sucked in the PIA authorities from the very moment the rescuers started scouring the flight wreckage in the hope of finding survivors. Normally, other airlines immediately establish a dedicated system for assisting the affected families in such cases to keep them informed of developments and help them in completing the formalities. But PIA remains true to its old character. It has abandoned them. The government hasn’t done any better either.


Train danger

THE tragic accident at a railway crossing at Pattoki in Punjab on Tuesday is yet another reminder that once negligence sets in, disaster is never far away. The accident which took the lives of two newly married couples has been blamed on the man in charge of the crossing at the time. It was around 10 am when the Khyber Mail from Lahore hit a car carrying the two brothers and their wives — a time when railway staff are expected to be rested and ready for the day’s work. Unfortunately, the railways’ vulnerability to all manner of accidents is well documented however much the authorities may promise a turnaround. Late last year, reports emerged in the papers describing 2019 as one of the worst years for Pakistan Railways, with some 100 accidents of a minor or major nature taking place. Other occurrences signifying system failure, such as the breaking down of 111 train engines en route, were in addition to these accidents.
Accidents at crossings are frequent, even though not much effort is required to ensure that railway phattaks are properly manned. Indeed, rail tracks all over the country have many unmanned crossings, and to give readers just one example, a score of accidents took place at these unmanned pickets between August 2018 and June 2019. Sadly, these unmanned danger spots are often accepted with a sense of resignation; hardly any step is taken to make the crossings more secure after a tragedy. The site of Tuesday’s collision has witnessed gory scenes of a train ramming hard into a car or some other vehicle all too often. Most infamously, an accident here in 2016 killed eight people. It is a shame that such accidents are allowed to happen in these technologically advanced times. But the railways has not even learnt to use simple gadgets to ensure greater security — like a mobile phone to communicate to the person manning the crossing that the Khyber Mail is just a few kilometres away.


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