Pakistan’s Pandemic Politics

It has been more than six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the arrival of a new virus a global emergency. Since then the world, and our lives, have changed profoundly.

While many countries may seem to have fought well enough to contain the effects of the virus, several countries are still struggling. With the world still battling the corona virus pandemic, it should be no news that the virus is still out there. And while the question “how are we faring in this battle between the human race and the coronavirus?” may still be baffling thousands of minds across the world, Pakistan has already declared themselves winners!! The smugness over Pakistan being fortunate, unlike the other unfortunate countries, was also a home run. It was as if there was no tomorrow for the pandemic. But then, Covid-19 made a comeback and now people are once again looking at the government for answers. Just when Pakistan had started basking in the glory of their success for controlling the pandemic, there happened the unfortunate incident where 6 people in the COVID ward of a hospital lost their lives due to lack of oxygen supply.

In the last two months, Pakistan has witnessed a spike in infections with more than 400,000 reported cases of coronavirus. On 2 December, the country recorded 75 deaths, which is the highest number of single-day fatalities since July. The positivity rate is now up at 8.04 per cent in the second wave of the pandemic. Pakistan recorded the highest single-day COVID-19 death toll in 5 months. The corona positive rate has shot up to 8.58 percent with the highest COVID-19 prevalence observed in Karachi as 21.80 percent of the PCR tests conducted in the past 24 hours detected SARS-CoV-2. Major government and private hospitals in Peshawar have run out of beds for coronavirus patients due to a surge in cases. The spike and the fatality rate is a cause of concern for the Imran Khan government.

As soon as the incident took place a preliminary inquiry was ordered. And like pieces of a falling Jenga, the truth came crashing down, taking down everyone from the top management to the smallest player of the game. According to the preliminary report, the on-duty manager of services line received a call from the hospital’s operation theatre regarding low oxygen pressure and then called the oxygen plant’s manager, who did not receive his phone, after which the former visited the plant in person and found that the two officials, who were supposed to be on duty, were absent. Just like a missing stable government. The oxygen plant pressure at that moment was zero. Just like the future of Pakistan.

And then started the blame game train. According to the services line manager, the oxygen plant assistant “failed to perform his duty as he is responsible for the oxygen plant and has a liaison with the supplier”. In its other findings, the committee found that even though the oxygen tank had a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres, the supplier Ms Pakistan Oxygen Limited never filled the tank to the required level. On December 4, for example, the company only supplied 3,040 cubic metres of oxygen. The report, quoting the supply chain manager, also says that the contract with Ms Pakistan Oxygen Ltd had expired in 2017 and was renewed until June 30 of this year. No document of a renewal agreement was provided to the committee.

The committee also found that the staff appointed to work with the plant lacked technical expertise. The hospital’s biomedical engineer and his team failed to train the staff and did not maintain this important lifesaving equipment.

And just like every other story in Pakistan, conveniently the blame was put collectively on lack of training of staff, no backup, supply and emergency squad, while no one really took the blame for the incident. And all that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra had to say was “It should have been detected earlier”. Instead of finding out who was responsible behind this flap, Mr Jhagra did what everyone in Pakistan does best- shrug their responsibility. No wonder Twitter was raging with demands for his resignation, but Pakistan being Pakistan, that would soon be forgotten too.

While the cases were on a rise in the country, it was found that six members of the Pakistan cricket squad, who had travelled to New Zealand, tested positive for COVID-19. Not only were they found COVID-positive, the reason for this is their own negligence. A health ministry spokeswoman from New Zealand told that several members of the Pakistan team had been seen on CCTV breaking the rules and the team was now on its “final warning”. The rules had been broken despite “clear, consistent and detailed communication of expected behaviour”. Apparently they almost forgot that we were still in the middle of the pandemic.

The pandemic has plunged the global economy into recession, while the second wave of the virus has put the health system of Pakistan under pressure.

The reasons for the boom are many-pandemic politics being the primary one. The notion that the novel coronavirus only spreads in opponents’ gatherings is the other reason. While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was too busy appreciating itself for its own COVID success, it almost forgot that we were still in the middle of the pandemic. As the alliance of Opposition parties began public rallies for the ouster of the government, PM Khan also began his own jalsas, drawing large crowds that followed no SOPs whatsoever.

Viewpoint

In a country that is in complete shambles because of its shattered economy, rising pandemic and ineffective government there is nothing good left to see. The hypocrite PTI government only knows how to call out the political opponents aggressively, but they themselves go into hibernation when it comes to religious political parties protesting or coming together. Other than ranting against the Opposition, what is it that PM Khan plans to do to tackle the second wave of coronavirus? Frankly, no one knows the answer.

10 Dec 20/ Thursday                                                                                      Written By:  Saima Ibrahim