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The Express Tribune Editorial 11 March 2020

Growing challenge


The WHO chief’s warning that there is now a ‘very real’ threat of the coronavirus outbreak turning into a pandemic has coincided with at least 11 new cases emerging in Pakistan – all in the province of Sindh which only had four cases till two days back. All coronavirus cases emerging in Pakistan “are the travellers who brought it from Iran, Iraq, Syria and even from London”, says Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services.
The overall toll of infected persons in the country is 18 as this piece is being written; and of them 15 belong to Sindh alone – necessitating serious measures to avoid the province becoming an epicentre for the disease in the country. While steps need to be taken within Sindh to contain the virus – like a ban on large public gatherings, strict screening at airports, and getting people who have come from abroad quarantined – the movement of people from the province to other parts of the country also needs to be strictly monitored, at airports across the country and all other entry and exit points.
The Sindh CM, after a meeting of the provincial taskforce on coronavirus, decided that the PSL matches in Karachi will be played as scheduled, but there may still be a rethink on the decision which appears to have been taken to avoid panic among people. The provincial government is also in a fix on whether or not to reopen educational institutions from coming Monday. Relevant federal authorities must coordinate with those in provinces and chalk out a proper plan to combat the developing situation after thorough deliberations.
Globally, coronavirus has infected more than 113,000 people across 100 countries and killed over 4,000. While the situation has calmed in China, where the pandemic began, the fatal infection has reached every continent of the world except Antarctica. In Asia, the Middle East is hit the hardest, with Iran topping the list of infections (more than 8,000) and deaths (291). Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon and Qatar also continue to report new cases. Every country in the European Union now has cases of coronavirus, with Cyprus having detected two cases as of Tuesday. In the US, cases continue to rise, with several states declaring states of emergency. In Australia, the total number of cases has hit 100 with three deaths.
The growing scare has also taken a heavy toll on the global economy. On Monday, stock markets around the world crashed to record lows. US stocks closed down by more than 7% while London’s index ended the day nearly 8% lower. Similar drops were witnessed across Europe and Asia. The Pakistan Stock Exchange was actually paused just seven minutes after the opening bell on Monday having fallen more than 2,100 points, or almost 6%. After being reopened 45 minutes later, shares actually fell another 200 points before rebounding somewhat to close down by 1,165 or 3%.
Though most of the initial blame for the chaos went to fears of a global coronavirus pandemic – global markets have lost over $10 trillion in market capitalisation over the past two weeks – oil happened to be the latest culprit. A dispute between the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and other major producers led by Russia, saw oil log its biggest daily decline since 2014, dropping 10%. A crash in demand from China and other places where travel restrictions have been imposed to combat coronavirus has also been a factor in the decline. Crude oil continued to fall on Monday, taking down global markets with it. However, with Russia signalling that talks with Opec remain possible, oil prices jumped by 10% on Tuesday, resulting in the bourses rebounding too.


Dealing with deportees


In view of the large number of Pakistanis being deported frequently from Turkey and Greece, the Federal Investigation Agency has decided, in principle, not to arrest those who entered these countries via land route without forged documents. It is a wise decision considering that in such cases the real culprits are the traffickers who lure innocent youth into undertaking the risky journey through the land route – Quetta, Iran, Turkey and Greece. The government has now realised that it is a humanitarian issue, so it should be dealt with humanely. FIA Punjab (Zone-1) Director Mohammad Rizwan introduced the changes to the standing operating procedure for handling of deportees.
The Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act, 2018 and the UN’s migrant smuggling protocol 2004 envisage non-criminalisation/humane treatment of the smuggled migrants (deportees) and effective prosecution of the perpetrators of organised crime of smuggling of migrants. Contrary to this, deportees are subjected to vexatious treatment and prosecution under anachronistic laws. Now all deportees (excluding categories A and B) shall be released from the airports within the shortest possible time after identifying the perpetrators/ facilitators, local agents of international traffickers responsible for the act and recording the deportee’s statement. Action will continue to be taken in the case of A and B categories. The immigration rules empowers the FIA to take action against those deportees who entered a foreign land on fake papers.
However, there remains the possibility of undeserving deportees being let off taking advantage of the new SOP. The government needs to be on guard against the misuse of the new provisions. Other loopholes that aid traffickers and those who willingly travel on forged documents get scot-free should be plugged. The problem of illegal outward migration needs to be tackled at the root. The issue is there due to growing joblessness among the youth and the difficult economic situation of the country. Human smugglers are exploiting the situation. People sell their property and risk their lives in search of a better life in developed countries. How many angels can dance on the point of a needle? This is the question developed countries confront now.


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