Take doctors seriously

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ADDRESSING a news conference in Karachi on Wednesday, senior doctors termed the coming four weeks critical in trying to overcome the Coronavirus pandemic, urging the federal and provincial governments to enforce a strict country-wide lockdown for another month. The eminent physicians of the country warned that if preventive measures were not taken, the number of COVID-19 cases could reach up to 70,000 by next month (May 15). They estimated that as many as 7,000 critical cases would require ventilators whereas the country has no more than 3,500 machines.
The warning and concern of the doctors are not unfounded as they are in the frontline in the fight against the virus and understand the situation better than anyone else. The advice comes in the midst of sharp increase in the number of cases and fatalities and there are expectations even by the official circles that the number of affected people could dramatically increase in the weeks to come. Such apprehensions are not unfounded as virus data and trend clearly show a spike as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pakistan rose to 10,503 on Wednesday and the death toll reached 222. Therefore, the doctors have understandably demanded banning all types of crowds and congregations, including those at supermarkets, shopping malls and mosques, saying people should avoid gathering at any place at least for one and a half to two months so that transmission of Coronavirus could be minimized as much as possible. In the backdrop of permission given by the Government to mosques for restriction free congregational prayers including Taraweeh they have also asked the Ulema and people to offer prayers at homes. Concerns about livelihood notwithstanding one fails to understand why restrictions are being eased in a wholesale manner when the number of infections is rising, putting burden on the country’s healthcare system. In many countries including some of the rich and developed ones, the careless handling has led to virtual collapse of the healthcare system and doctors have a point in fearing that we too were heading in the same direction where patients will have to be treated on roads. The logic of doctors is also supported by ground situation as the number of infections in Sindh has increased exponentially ever-since the Government eased restrictions as per decision taken at a high level meeting in Islamabad. There was a rapid increase of 2,692 patients in just five days in the province and if the existing trend continues, it could get out of control of doctors and the government. The easing of restrictions at this juncture has its own implications as people are taking it as a sign of overall improvement in the situation and more and more sectors and segments of the society are putting pressure on the authorities to relax restrictions on them as well. There seems to be contradiction in the approach of the concerned people as reflected by the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who acknowledged that the Coronavirus is expected to hit a peak in May and June but at the same time added that Pakistan being a poverty-stricken country cannot survive a lockdown for an extended period. No doubt, COVID-19 has economic implications and is pushing more people below poverty line but saving lives should be the prime consideration as there would be no ways to handle the situation if the number of infections continues to rise. Poverty and hunger issues are being addressed by way of cash grants and above all countless individual philanthropists and NGOs have become instrumental in bailing out poverty stricken families but both the public and the private sector lack the capability to take care of rapidly increasing number of patients. Therefore, federal and provincial governments as well as people of Pakistan should take the warning of the doctors seriously and follow the precautionary guidelines that are being adhered to all over the globe. It would be wrong to surmise that doctors were doing politics at the instance of Sindh government as there are no personal interests involved. We have clear choices at this point of time: Effectively check the spread of the virus by extending lockdown for a few weeks as is logically being proposed by saner elements or let the situation get out of control.