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The Express Tribune Editorial 28 May 2020

The public role

Nonchalance is one thing. Disdain another. The way our public burst out of their homes for Eid shopping in the wake of the relaxation in the coronavirus lockdown speaks more of their contempt for the SOPs prescribed by the government and experts than their ignorance about the same. Jam-packed roads, cramped vehicles and overcrowded marketplaces — though not an unusual sight in urban centres during normal circumstances — aptly exemplify a public that cares a damn about a virus that has brought virtually the whole world to a halt. Even toddlers were seen accompanying their parents in shopping centres. Such is the height of however we interpret this behaviour.
No wonder the authorities fear a spike in the cases of the deadly infection — already nearing 60,000 with more than 1,200 deaths — and mull toughening the lockdown. A warning from Dr Zafar Mirza, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, makes it loud and clear that “if this trend [of disregarding the government instructions and violating the SOPs] continues, we may impose strict lockdowns after Eid”. During a press conference in Islamabad on the second day of Eid, Mirza minced no words in stating that if precautionary measures were not followed, “this crisis could turn into a complete tragedy”.
That an anti-virus is still a long way to go and social distancing is the only remedy to avoid the lethal virus is by now a well-known fact. The public is being constantly reminded through media campaigns that the spread of the virus could only be halted by avoiding unnecessary outings, keeping clean, wearing face masks, maintaining a safe distance from others, and adopting other precautionary measures. It’s simply indigestible that these words of advice and these notes of caution have not reached the general public, at least in big towns and cities of the country in which the violations of safety protocols were rather more pronounced.
While the government cannot afford to go for a curfew-like lockdown in the country in view of the prevailing economic situation, the public will have to realise that they have a big role to play in this fight against the coronavirus. Cooperation is just what is expected of the people.


Fowl arrest


Indian Border Security Forces have again claimed to have captured a Pakistani James Bond, or is it Bird? Yet another pigeon was taken into custody by the police in Indian Occupied Kashmir for spying, according to reports in Indian media, because it had “a prominent pink patch and a tag on its leg”. The reports say that a woman in the Chadwal area caught the bird after it flew into her house and handed it over to security officials. It had a ring on its leg which had numbers on it. These numbers could simply be an identifying number, which is often used by people who race birds. But this would be too easy an explanation, so the police have launched an investigation into the pigeon’s involvement in an “espionage attempt from Pakistan”.
We can confidently say that the investigation will turn up a duck. Unfortunately, ducks can swim, which may lead Indian authorities to expand their investigations into the shared waterways originating in the Karakoram mountains, even though India is mostly upriver. Duck also rhymes with truck, and we know that truck-bombs have been used against Indian forces in the past. While this train of thought may seem far-fetched, remember that this is not the first time India has investigated a pigeon for espionage. In 2015, a “spy pigeon” with a marking on its leg was taken into custody. In 2016, another “spy pigeon” was brutally tortured by Indian forces that clipped its wings to prevent it from ever “returning to Pakistan”. Yet, Indian officials admitted that despite this torture, the bird did not give up any information.
To his credit, the SSP of Kathua actually did tell the media that tagging racing birds is common practice, but other unnamed officers still insisted that the bird was a spy. Irrational hatred leads to irrational thoughts, which lead to irrational actions, none of which are acceptable when the players are nuclear-armed nations.


Red tape and air crash

It is a case of tragedy confounded by official red tape. A report in this newspaper has brought to the fore how cold bureaucratic hurdles are adding to the agonies of families who lost their loved ones in the air crash on May 22, in Karachi. Not only have they been left to fend for themselves, they are being subjected to probing and prolonged questioning from government functionaries. This is being reportedly done when the grieving people need empathy from all quarters.
A man from Lahore who lost several of his immediate family members of wife, two daughters and a son in the air tragedy has had a bitter experience in his search for the bodies of family members. To him, the search and associated process of verification and documentation for the recovery and handover of the bodies has been arduous and painful. In the whole process tiresome, he has had to visit several hospitals, mortuaries and police stations and deal with medico-legal officers.
Grief-stricken people are being made to run around to retrieve the remains of their departed loved ones. They have had to undergo lots of hardships before they bury the mortal remains of their relations. The ordeal does not end after getting possession of bodies, as bodies cannot be buried without obtaining death certificates from MLOs. This further rubs salt to the wound as investigations and questions from MLOs and the police are never ending. Like in case of this man from Lahore, the police questioning continued for an hour when he went to Jinnah Hospital to get a death certificate. However, the hospital did not issue any death certificate, saying the certificate for the dead woman could be issued only by a female doctor.
The Sindh government and the Centre are said to be conducting separate DNA tests. Once again they do not seem to be on the same page. Perhaps, the page is small and people big.
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