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The Express Tribune Editorial 2 April 2020


Key media role

Apart from the heroic sacrifice being offered by our courageous medical and paramedical force, as well as our valiant security personnel, journalists and other media workers are also playing a crucial role in the fight against the novel coronavirus in the country. Even in these times of crisis, media workers have been performing their duties as they normally do. They have been bringing timely and critical information to the public from the frontlines. And in the line of this sacred duty, three journalists have contracted the virus in Punjab.
In what is more important in this era of fake news, several media outlets have been doing their best to bring accurate and verified information to the public. With a tsunami of misinformation with regard to symptoms and purported cures, media representatives are cautious enough to pass on only filtered information. The public has deemed such information invaluable as seen in the form of greater viewage statistics.
The importance of media to the government can also be seen in the fact that journalists and media workers have been deemed essential personnel and are amongst the small list of people who have been exempt from the lockdown and curfew-like restrictions imposed almost country-wide. It is, therefore, important that in this critical time, as the government secures much-needed personal protection equipment for doctors and security services and provides them with protection training, journalists should also be considered.
Moreover, the government must also allocate funds for the media in its stimulus package so that these organisations can continue paying their staff and provide the public with much-needed information. Besides, the three reporters who have contracted the coronavirus must be provided with all the necessary care so that they could make swift recovery.


The school fees issue

There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Obviously, the reference is to the raging coronavirus pandemic sweeping throughout the world. There are reports from Punjab and Sindh that owners of private schools are asking for tuition fees for the months of April and May though schools will stay closed in these two months to protect students, teachers and other school staff from Covid-19. Curiously, owners are demanding fees for the two months when schools are normally closed for summer vacation. It is unclear what rules govern fee collection for vacation periods.
The Punjab government had asked schools to cut fees by 20% because of the emergency situation. Representatives of private schools in Punjab held a meeting with relevant provincial ministers and officials recently in Lahore to resolve the issue. The representatives of schools requested for 48 hours to decide their response, which was granted. Parents in Punjab claim schools have persistently been asking them for tuition fees for April and May, and some of the schools are not issuing results cards because of the delay in submitting the fees. They claim that some school administrations have even gone on to say students will not be promoted to the next class or they will be struck off from the school roll, if fees are not paid. Parents also claim private schools are not implementing the court order on fee reduction.
Private schools in Sindh too are asking for fees for all months, expressing fears that in the absence of fees, schools could close down rendering teachers and other staff jobless. They say they have to depend on fees collected from students to pay salaries and to meet other expenses. They have offered some relaxation in payment of fees. All stakeholders should try to find a workable solution to the issue.


Covid-19 aid

The United Nations appears ready to help Pakistan over its coronavirus response after a senior official of the world body told the country that it only needs to formally file a request. A request would be in the form of a joint proposal from the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Disaster Management Authority. Last week, UN Secretary General António Guterres launched a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan for Covid-19 to help countries with weak health systems tackle the crisis. Pakistan was not among the 65 countries listed in the initial plan because it did not meet all the conditions of need. It was, however, among a dozen countries listed as warranting “close attention”.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development, i.e. UNCTAD, also listed Pakistan among the countries which would take the worst hits due to the global pandemic. The UN agency estimates that 170 developing countries would need a $2.5 trillion support package this year to face the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The amount was estimated using $1 trillion for liquidity injections, $1 trillion for a debt relief package, and another $500 million for emergency health services.
“Sub-Saharan African countries will be among the hardest hit alongside others, including Pakistan and Argentina,” said UNCTAD Globalisation and Development Strategies Director Richard Kozul-Wright, who oversaw the report that explicitly named Pakistan among the countries that will be worst hit by the pandemic. “International institutions have to take these sorts of proposals very, very seriously as it’s the only way that we can see to prevent the damage already taking place and which will get worse,” he said.
Besides, the G-20 has already committed to injecting more than $5 trillion into the global economy to help overcome the pandemic. The IMF is also considering a Pakistani request for assistance to help meet its immediate balance of payment needs and support the worst-affected sectors of the economy.
As the authorities in Pakistan are pursuing lockdowns as part of measures to contain the coronavirus, the economy is taking a big hit. This, in turn, is hampering efforts to fight the deadly virus. It is, indeed, time for some international attention.
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