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The Express Tribune Editorial 11 May 2020

Life of a journalist in perpetual peril

The life of a journalist seems to be in perpetual peril. The correspondent of an English-language daily in Umerkot is the latest among the journalist community to have faced physical assault. More than two dozen armed men entered by force the house of AB Arisar located in the desert region on Wednesday and subjected his family to severe torture. The house inmates told reporters that 15 men armed with axes, sticks and hammers barged into the house after breaking open locks, subjected them to torture, and dragged them out to occupy the premises. While the apparent motive of the invasion appears unrelated to the journalist’s professional work, the fact that his existence is vulnerable to attacks by miscreants tells us just how under death-defying environment our journos carry out their work.
Journalists in Pakistan continue to face violence amid a worryingly escalating climate of intimidation and harassment. No surprise then that Pakistan has only marginally slipped — three notches — on the World Press Freedom index for the year 2020, reaching 145th position out of 180 countries. Reporters Without Borders shines a dismal light on the state of media in the country. It says media outlets in Pakistan have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising. The signals of TV channels that gave airtime to opposition representatives have been jammed. Journalists who dared to broach subjects deemed off-limits have been subjected to harassment campaigns. It goes on to describe how journalists continue to be at risk in the field, especially in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where reporters are caught in the crossfire between the security forces and militants. Four journalists and a blogger were killed in connection with their reporting in 2019, while one journalist was killed in 2020.
As has been emphasized umpteen times in these columns, the impunity with which journalists are made target of violence must come to an end.

 
 

The continued fight

Much has been written about how medical professionals are the real heroes in the global fight against the novel coronavirus. These valiant and selfless professionals continue to play a critical role in saving lives across the globe even as infections barrel towards the four million mark. However, the situation is now beginning to take a toll on these frontline fighters. The International Council for Nurses has sounded the alarm that an estimated 90,000 nurses in some 30 countries are infected with the deadly virus while as many as 260 medical staffers have succumbed to the disease primarily for want of personal protective equipment (PPE) in a desirable quantity. This is a conservative estimate and the real number is believed to be far higher.
In what should be described as a mere lip service, the authorities never cease to appreciate the central role of doctors and nurses in the fight against the rampaging virus, but they don’t do much in practice to cater to their needs. A very few talk about the sufferings of these soldiers in this conflict and what is the impact of losing even one of them. The standard ratio that the World Health Organization recommends for doctors and nurses is one per 1,000 people and one per 14 people respectively. It means that if we lose even one doctor, it will shift the burden of around 1,000 patients on other doctors while nurses will have to share the burden for an additional 14 patients.
In places like Pakistan, the situation is even more pathetic. The country did not meet the WHO’s standard ratios for health staff even in normal circumstances. With a surge in the number of patients infected with the coronavirus, our health infrastructure is already overloaded. Some district administrations have issued open calls for doctors and nurses to join their quarantine centers. According to the Pakistan Medical Association, more than 650 medical practitioners have been infected with the virus across the country while 10 doctors and three nurses have succumbed. This has created a shortage of staff to deal with the patients. The federal and provincial governments must immediately move to meet this genuine demand of our medical professionals or risk losing this battle.

 
 

Tourism in tatters

The rapid spread of Covid-19 has brought about an abrupt halt in the socio-political structures of the world. In particular, the tourism industry has been greatly affected due to lockdowns, travel curbs, border closures and, above all, fear. The World Tourism Organisation estimated that international tourism could plunge 60-80% in 2020 with Asia and Europe taking the hardest hits. These estimates might vary over the course of the year depending on when restrictions are lifted. Even under the best-case scenario tourism is expected to fall by 50% which in itself will be significant considering that the industry alone constitutes 10% to the world’s GDP.
While it is true that airlines have suffered the most, the effects of the tourism crisis reverberate through economies across the world as the decline in international travel could lead to $1 trillion loses in export revenues. Patience is of the essence as the world anxiously waits for the pandemic to subside. Airlines are hoping that leisure travel would recover as soon as possible but experts claim that the situation will persist till 2021. In the meantime, airlines should introduce travel safety protocols whereby air travel is made safe so that essential flights are operational for transporting necessary goods across countries.
Questioning why such systems have not been able to withstand the pandemic crisis is akin to questioning the very condition of the current socio-political paradigm. The failure of the international tourism industry mirrors the failure of neoliberalism and free market capitalism. Perhaps a way of sustenance till this pandemic is over is to break away from these classical paradigms. Instead, if individual entities work collectively to combat the virus, it may just help us get past this phase. For this, it is essential that in each nation, industries come together by pooling in resources and funds through which a collective system is generated to fight the deadly virus. A radical event requires radical change.
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