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The Express Tribune Editorial 9 April 2020

Spike in cases

From one coronavirus-infected case on February 26, Pakistan took 29 days to reach one thousand. It then took a week to take the toll to 2,000 patients and another five days to take it to 3,000. But with just 3 days lapsing, the toll reached 4,000. The figures, presented by Sindh government’s spokesperson Murtaza Wahab, show that the country has entered the exponential-growth phase. The next few days and weeks are, thus, feared to pile on the agony. This steep surge in the number of known cases of the lethal virus — standing at 4,183 as of April 8 and having resulted in 58 deaths — is enough to set the alarm bells ringing. What makes the numbers even more alarming is that the number of tests conducted in the country so far only totalled 39,183 tests till yesterday, with the current testing capacity standing at 3,088 per 24 hours. And this means that nearly 10 per cent of those tested have returned positive.
Social distancing and testing — apart from personal cleanliness — are the measures prescribed to avoid the contagion, of course in the absence of an anti-virus. While our government — according to the de facto health minister, Zafar Mirza — plans to raise its testing capacity to something around 20,000 per day in about a week’s time, it has so far avoided imposing social distancing on the people through a strict curfew-like lockdown, instead trying to achieve the goal only through teaching and preaching. Well, a cash-strapped government can hardly afford to opt for an all-closed or even for a stricter lockdown, though it is turning out to be extremely necessary given the recent spike in the coronavirus cases. Even though the government plans to open up a few industries in a bid to deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus and ease pressure on itself as regards catering to a large out-of-work segment of the population, the plan is set to conflict with its social distancing policy.


SC on release of prisoners

The Supreme Court has set aside the decisions of the Islamabad High Court and the Sindh High Court to release prisoners in certain categories and order the relevant government to re-arrest them. The top court has, however, said relief should be given to prisoners accused of minor crimes and vulnerable convicts like the elderly women and children. It said such prisoners if relieved should not be rearrested. The relief is in line with the request of the attorney general. The apex court order came on a petition that challenged the decisions of the high courts. Earlier, the high courts had ordered relief of certain categories of prisoners in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The high court’s decisions were aimed at easing overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
Most jails have prisoners far in excess of their capacity with a view to making social distancing possible within prisons. The courts had ordered the release of some prisoners. But subsequent happenings proved the decision unworkable as the crime rate rose up after the release of some prisoners. It emerged that the criminal activities in affluent localities of cities had registered an increase after the release of prisoners. Earlier, the Chief Justice of Pakistan said that after the release of prisoners, certain areas of cities had witnessed a rise in robberies and muggings, implying that the situation necessitated review of the decisions on prisoners’ relief. Informed circles have also claimed that under the pretext of easing the cramped conditions in jails, those facing corruption cases too have been set free. The CJ said arrangements should be made within jails to quarantine those suspected of the coronavirus.
It is commonly observed that muggers and robbers are more active when roads and streets are deserted. Newspapers have reported that on Tuesday the police arrested two men while they were committing a burglary at a bungalow in DHA Karachi. Muggings and robberies are occurring in other cities too even during the lockdown.


Smear campaign

Pakistan has rejected Indian media reports of any Pakistani involvement in the March 25 attack on a Sikh temple in Afghanistan in which 25 people had been killed. The attack had been claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group which has been fairly active in the war-ravaged country these days. The Indian media reports alleged that the ‘mastermind of the attack’ — Abdullah Orakzai alias Aslam Farooqi — arrested by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security had ties with the Pakistani intelligence and also enjoyed ‘close relations’ with the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The Foreign Office of Pakistan was swift to reject the “officially-inspired reports”, and described them as “mischievous and condemnable”. According to the Foreign Office, the news reports seeking to implicate Pakistan in this terrorist attack are part of a “well-known smear campaign against Pakistan” and represent “desperate attempts India is making to divert attention from its own unacceptable actions and state-terrorism in India-occupied Jammu & Kashmir”.
Given their track record, we know that any references to Pakistan in the Indian media have to be treated as false until proven otherwise. They have been doing it for long without a shred of evidence and without a fragment of proof. Even well-established media houses that are otherwise pretty independent in their treatment of issues are well-known to blindly accept whatever their government says in relation to Pakistan. The post-Pulwama reaction is a recent case in point. The Indian media got carried away with the national hysteria and tried to prove that a so-called revenge attack had led to 300 terrorists being killed on the Pakistani soil — as always basing their information to unnamed ‘official sources’, ‘forensic experts’ and ‘intelligence officers’.
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