Army joins anti-Corona Virus drive

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THE campaign against COVID-19 would surely receive a major boost as armed forces have declared that they are fully prepared and activated to assist civil institutions to combat Corona Virus across the country. Addressing media-less briefing along with Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar said the armed forces are deploying all resources to help the public together with civil institutions and announced that measures are being taken to make the armed forces’ medical facilities available for an “extreme emergency” situation.
The Federal and Provincial Governments are already engaged in a massive exercise to check spread of the disease and provide best possible medical treatment to the affected people. However, the nature and magnitude of the threat demands a well-coordinated strategy by all institutions to minimize the losses that are entering into unbearable limit. Armed forces have all along been instrumental in joining national efforts on the occasion of every disaster and emergent situation and contributed significantly in mitigating sufferings of the affected people and their rehabilitation. Their participation in the fight against Corona Virus is important as armed forces are not just organized and have the necessary disciplined manpower to carry out the responsibility but also have best medical institutions and facilities in the country.
Presently, the armed forces have announced to make their facilities available for an ‘extreme emergency’ situation but we believe this should be done immediately so that affected people could get comparatively better treatment. A medical action plan has also been devised by armed forces, the details of which have not been shared but it is hoped that it would cover all aspects of the situation and personnel of the armed forces would provide assistance right from screening and diagnostic stage to proper treatment of the affected ones. It is also appreciable that Pakistan Army scientists are researching and manufacturing personal protection equipment, face masks, and hand sanitizers and this would surely augment efforts of other civil institutions and research organizations in this regard. Rangers’ personnel are assisting civil administration with the security and management of various quarantine camps set up across the country and this would help improve situation camps in the backdrop of some reports of lack of proper facilities and haphazard arrangements. This becomes all the more relevant as, according to AFP, hundreds of Pakistanis who returned home from a pilgrimage to Iran, were stuck in filthy Corona Virus quarantine camps with limited medical care, and feared squalid conditions were helping spread the disease.
One can imagine the situation from claims of former and current residents of Taftan camp on the border with Iran who said the facility lacked running water or flushable toilets, with pilgrims only able to wash every few days. One wonders how we are going to address the grave challenge when we are unable to provide the basic facility of water, which is central to hygiene. It is because of such lacklustre approach to a serious challenge that the virus has spread to all regions of the country and as per figures released on Thursday Pakistan had 456 confirmed cases of COVID-19, their majority with a travel history. Sindh is the worst-affected province with 245 cases, followed by Balochistan (81), Punjab (78), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (23), Gilgit-Baltistan (21), Islamabad Capital Territory (7), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (1). In this backdrop, it is encouraging that the Government was already in touch with the outside world to seek necessary cooperation in combating the disease in an effective manner.
China and Pakistan have had far-reaching discussions on cooperation in the health sector, and one outcome of the president’s recent visit to China is that in the next couple of days, communicable disease experts, clinicians and epidemiologists based in China will be guiding our health professionals on management of Corona Virus through video conferencing. Chinese cooperation means much as the country has successfully fought the virus and its strategy is being praised the world over, as, according to latest information there are no fresh cases of virus in Wuhan, which was considered to be epicentre of the disease. The decision to limit visits to the OPDs of the hospitals and medical facilities is also timely as it would help minimize contacts and also help spare medical resources for Corona Virus patients. Safety and protection of doctors and paramedical staff should also be a priority and they should get necessary protective items and equipment. Doctors have been complaining about shortage of such equipment and these complaints should be addressed on an urgent basis. It is also important that each and every member of the society should contribute his/her share to the anti-virus campaign. A difference can be made by changing our attitude and opting for social distancing as is being done in other affected countries.
In neighbouring India, a nation-wide mock drill, Junta Curfew, has been announced for Sunday requiring all citizens, barring those in essential services, to stay indoors. We should also prepare ourselves for such an eventuality. The economic aspect of the spread of the disease also needs to be taken care of right from the very beginning. Though State Bank of Pakistan has taken some measures to facilitate the industry and exporters but these are not enough especially when the Asian Development Bank has estimated that the country may face losses worth Rs. 1.3 trillion. These losses are going to be incurred on account of drop in the GDP growth because of reduction in services sector, including airline business and others, FBR’s revenue loss, massive decline in imports, exports, reduction in remittances, disruption in food supplies and other fronts. Similarly, the Ministry of Food Security has asserted that the country will not face any food shortage as it has sufficient stocks of essential items to meet the immediate needs but plans must be in place to cope with the situation if the crisis persists for a longer duration. There are already reports of shortage of wheat flour even in areas like Wah which is in close proximity to Islamabad/Rawalpindi. In view of global nature of the virus, home remittances by Overseas Pakistanis might also see a drop and an aggressive strategy is required to maintain the flow.

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