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The Express Tribune Editorial 28 February 2020

Coronavirus in Pakistan


Our worst fears have come true. Coronavirus has hit Pakistan, with two cases being confirmed in the country — one each in Karachi and Skardu. With Iran reporting its first cases of the mysterious virus over the last weekend, and Afghanistan contracting it within no time, frankly speaking, there was little that Pakistani authorities could have done to keep the contagion at bay, given its evil potential to spread through the air, according to experts. Pakistan did close its border with Iran — which is emerging as the second focal point after China for the spread of the disease, mainly for being a convergence point for religious pilgrims who might take the virus with them on their way back — on Sunday, but perhaps the virus had reached inside the country well before the border controls were put in place. While, according to reports, both the Pakistani victims contracted the virus in Iran, one of them had flown to Karachi from the Iranian city of Mashhad on February 20 — obviously on a plane full of people around. That the victim, said to be a young man of 22, did defeat the screening devices speaks of the quality of the equipment as well as the laxity on the part of the airport authorities tasked with screening the passengers.
Confirming the first two cases of what is now officially called COVID-19 on Wednesday, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza expressed optimism that the infection would not assume the form of outbreak in Pakistan as “all measures needed to control the spread of highly contagious disease are in place”. This optimism is, however, questionable given our failed struggle with long-known viruses as well as rabies, the nineteenth-century disease. Dr Mirza, the de facto federal health minister, has also asked the public not to panic. Well, that is befitting advice for the authorities themselves who need to keep their cool and avoid a panic reaction. A list of do’s for the authorities is pretty clear: while the government has already banned flights to and from Iran, all the walk-through entry points with Iran, and Afghanistan, need to be properly monitored. Foreign experts should be invited to share their experience of dealing with the virus with local officials. The government of Sindh has reserved a whole hospital as a quarantine zone — something that should be emulated in the rest of the country, especially in Balochistan which is at a graver risk. All airports in the county must be equipped with proper screening facilities, and the availability of surgical masks on regulated prices must be ensured. In a foremost undertaking, all those who have travelled between Pakistan and China and Pakistan and Iran during the last couple of months must be identified and screened, and if needed quarantined.
Coronavirus is fast approaching pandemic proportions, having already spread out of China, its epicentre, to more than 40 other countries of the world, with a global toll of 2,800 dead and 81,000 infected. The WHO says that more new cases of the killer virus are now being reported each day outside China than inside it, putting the number of new cases in China at 411 as of Tuesday and those registered outside the country at 427. Thus far coronavirus only concerned us Pakistanis to the extent of bringing our citizens, mainly students, back from virus-stricken China, but now a serious danger is threateningly staring us right in the face. It’s a wide-ranging challenge not just related to health, but to our national economy, global diplomacy and society too. While we are past the pre-emption stage, we must now focus on the containment of the virus as best as we can, utilising all possible resources.


Air strike anniversary


A year after the Indian Air Force helped Narendra Modi lead a successful assault on the truth to guarantee re-election, Prime Minister Imran Khan praised Pakistan’s response to Indian aggression as being indicative of the nation’s maturity. “I was very proud of how the Pakistani people dealt with the crisis,” Prime Minister Imran said. “The fact that the crisis did not aggravate and the situation didn’t worsen only shows the maturity of the Pakistani nation.”
Last year on February 26, Indian planes violated Pakistani airspace and conducted air strikes in Pakistan. While the strikes missed the intended targets, the Indian propaganda machine played them up as some sort of death knell for Pakistan. The following day, the Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian jets and captured Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The IAF officer was later released in a peace gesture; however, Indian media even tried to play this as Pakistan capitulating under pressure. “We could have panicked… and responded to the Indian bombing on the spot. But we waited, realised the next day that there had been no casualties and then responded accordingly,” Prime Minister Imran recalled while criticising Indian politicians for beating war drums. The PM then spoke of the “very dangerous path” India has set out on. “History shows that only bloodshed follows the kind of racist, totalitarian and fascist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) ideology adopted by [India].”
Indeed, India’s recent behaviour has been reflective of a government out of control. US President Donald Trump’s repeated offers to mediate on Kashmir seem like old news, even though he last made one only a few days ago, because of the carnage in the Indian capital, New Delhi. At least 23 people have been killed in what Indian analysts fear is the start of a pogrom that could go past the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or even the Gujarat riots of 2002, which then-chief minister Narendra Modi personally oversaw. Citizens are being killed and journalists thrashed by the police and Hindutva mobs, and the government is doing nothing to bring the situation under control. Or maybe inaction is precisely the kind of action Modi takes when Muslims are at risk of being massacred.
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