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Dawn Editorial 3 June 2020

An alarming decision

IN a move that flies in the face of ominous data, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to further ease lockdown restrictions across the country and to reopen almost all sectors of industry — an unfortunate decision that will see a greater surge in coronavirus infections.
The announcement was made by Mr Khan after a meeting of the NCC which deliberated on the rapid increase in daily new cases and deaths, yet did not come up with a prevention strategy.
Instead, the plan, according to the prime minister, is to rely on citizen responsibility.
Take precautions or you will continue to suffer, he said.
Learn to live with it, as the virus will spread till there is a vaccine, he added.
What is most shocking is the decision to resume tourism in the country.
The writing is on the wall: thousands more will contract the infection and a number of people will die if the government does not come up with effective solutions while it waits for a vaccine that is at least a year away from production and distribution.
It is almost as if the top leadership does not read the news or the alarming Covid-19 data.
Data and news reports are crucial indicators of what is to come and must be examined closely.
Pakistan is now in the world’s top 10 countries when it comes to new daily deaths and cases.
In May alone, 1,100 people died of Covid-19 in the country, with 54,000 confirmed cases in 30 days.
A sample survey carried out by health authorities in Lahore estimated that around 670,000 people in the city may have contracted the virus, a figure far higher than the current one.
While questions can be asked about the size of the survey and why its findings are different from official numbers, it is alarming that the Punjab government ignored this study and its practical recommendations.
The worst is yet to come — a scenario predicted by Mr Asad Umar, who said violations of SOPs committed by people over Eid would be felt by mid-June.
Oddly, despite this concern, Mr Umar, too, has opposed a lockdown unless the healthcare system is overwhelmed.
Perhaps our leaders will understand the crisis better if they spend a few hours at emergency rooms in hospitals in the major cities.
Hospital staff are getting infected and dying; patients are being turned away because of lack of space.
But instead of building healthcare capacity and mulling an effective way to curb transmission, the government is talking about tourism.
Who will travel to Pakistan, where infection rates are climbing? It is still not too late to lock down and lower the transmission rate, as has been done in other countries which have flattened the curve and are slowly reopening.


US press attacked

PUBLIC anger that erupted late last month over the death of George Floyd, who died after a policeman put his knee on the African American man’s neck for a prolonged period during an arrest, has refused to subside. While many demonstrations have been peaceful, others have descended into riots, looting and arson, with a growing number of American cities rocked by the unrest. Unfortunately, the reaction by the American leadership, particularly the incumbent of the White House, has left a lot to be desired, and has, in fact, fanned the flames. What has been particularly appalling is the apparently deliberate targeting of mediapersons covering the events. Perhaps the most shocking event witnessed in this connection was the arrest, on live TV, of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and members of his team covering protests in Minneapolis. Troopers in full riot gear handcuffed Mr Jimenez as he asked them why he was under arrest, in a scene straight out of a George Orwell novel. But this has hardly been the only incident of its kind. Activists say mediapersons have been attacked by law enforcers over 100 times since May 28, with some facing rubber bullets and pepper spray despite clearly identifying themselves as members of the press. As the International Press Institute has noted, “The growing list of incidents reveals a chilling pattern in which reporters were targeted by police.” One MSNBC reporter recalled, when he told police that he was a mediaperson, the response he got was: “We don’t care.”
Such behaviour is usually reported from authoritarian states that clamp down on journalists with impunity, and are dragged over the coals by the US and other Western states for their animosity towards press freedom. However, in a sign of the times, it seems that such despicable ways are fast becoming the new normal in the US, thanks largely to the combative nature of the American president. While there is no justification for violence, which in fact dishonours the memory of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality, a much darker picture is emerging from the protests in America. In a country where free speech is a constitutional guarantee, the long arm of the law is instead cracking down on those whose job it is to report the facts. The authorities in the US must ensure that journalists are allowed to work freely, and not harassed and attacked by those in uniform.


Man for all seasons

FAROGH Naseem has resigned as law minister to represent the government in the presidential references filed against Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa. This act of his seems to be part of a habit. Last year, he resigned from his portfolio to represent army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa in the case of the latter’s extension. He was promptly sworn back into the cabinet after the case was over. It is fairly obvious now that such is Mr Naseem’s legal prowess that the government cannot trust any lawyer in the country other than him to take on this important legal challenge. The credit for this indispensability cannot be taken away from Mr Nasim who has shown — repeatedly — that he is a man who wears many hats. When he resigned his office to represent Gen Bajwa, critics garlanded him with unflattering labels which would have caused many a person to blush. But not him. Mr Naseem stood his ground, defied all (evened) odds, won the case, and silenced his critics with the contempt many richly deserved for doubting his intentions. Wrapped in legal glory, Mr Naseem galloped back into the cabinet like a conquering hero.
Now once again he has unsheathed his sword of law, donned his judicial armour, straddled his statutory stallion and cantered out of the cabinet straight into the battlefield on Constitution Avenue. It is a short ride from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to the court, and a short ride back. Justice Faez Isa may have branded him a ‘tout’ in his application to the Supreme Court, but Mr Naseem has proved time and again that he is above such provocations. He is a loyal soldier of the court, and of the government, and of the court again and this trait endears him to so many people who matter when it comes to appreciating the endearing traits of the talented Mr Farogh Naseem. In a landscape of constantly changing seasons, he is truly a man for all seasons.


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