The outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19, that began in the Wuhan city of China, has nearly spread out to the entire world by now. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the rapidly spreading out virus a pandemic. According to the statistics provided by the agency, more than 375,498 have contracted coronavirus while more than 16,362 deaths have been reported across the world.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adanom Ghebreyesus, has said that “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.” According to the WHO, the common signs of infection from COVID-19 include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, an infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Like anywhere else in the world, the deadly coronavirus has entered Balochistan, one of the most vulnerable and marginalized regions of Pakistan. The government sources claim the numbers of infected people have reached 1067 in Pakistan whereas, Balochistan has reported 115 cases of coronavirus as of today. Many observers of this epidemic believe that the Government of Pakistan is not disclosing the actual number of coronavirus infected people giving rise to fear and uncertainty among its people.
The leaders all over the world are taking strong measures to control the COVID-19 and to prevent it from spreading further. They are doing their best in taking every single measure to protect their citizens, like screening the new arrivals at the airport or the border check posts, shutting their borders for non-citizens and urging their citizens who are away from their home countries to get back home and go in 14 days self-isolations. They are spending billions of dollars on the medical and health facilities as well, offering financial assistance to the people infected with this new virus. Many states have declared a state of emergency in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, and the shopping malls, food restaurants, tourism places, casinos, bars, are being closed down to contain its spread, and those workers and business owners who are being affected from these strong measures, are being provided with financial support by their respective governments.
However, the Government of Balochistan and the Federal Government of Pakistan, have not taken any bold steps to ensure the safety of their citizens from this newly emerged threat, other than closing all the educational institution in Pakistan until early April 2020. There are around 300 students from Balochistan and an estimated 220,000 Pakistani students studying in China. Amidst the outbreak of coronavirus, some of these students managed to travel back to Pakistan but the majority of them are stranded in China. Among them, there are 1360 Pakistani students and over 20 Baloch students trapped in Wuhan, the epicentre of this epidemic. Despite numerous appeals by these students and their parents, the state authorities did not stir up a little to evacuate the trapped students.
The people of Balochistan are already suffering manifold challenges and the novel coronavirus will be disastrous for the residents, owing to lack of basic health facilities. Balochistan shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran. On an everyday basis, thousands of people and vehicles cross borders from both sides apart from those who cross the borders via illegal routes with no check posts or security available. These borders also lack proper measures and facilities when it comes to health and safety concerns.
The Balochistan government established quarantine camps near the border of Iran, in Taftan where the pilgrims and traders arriving from Iran are being screened and kept in the camps for 14 days. After 14 days in quarantine, these people are tested for COVID-19, if someone tests positive he/she is shifted to Shaikh Zaid Hospital in Saryab Quetta and otherwise they are allowed to go home. Some of the people who were kept in these quarantine camps in Taftan complained about the lack of basic facilities, mismanagement and even the lack of testing kits. According to them, they were only checked for the temperature to determine if any of them had contracted the disease. The surrounding area of the quarantine camp is very filthy. Many fear that the conditions in which the people were kept in the quarantine and given its messy surroundings, there is huge of risk of this disease to spread out to the residents of Taftan and across Balochistan. The doctors too have complained of the unavailability of very basic things such as safety masks and personal protection equipment (PPE). They have expressed concerns that they can easily get infected while treating a coronavirus infected person.
In addition to the challenges of health facilities, the authorities have imposed lockdowns in various cities and towns of Balochistan. The border crossing and trade have been restricted. Given the fact that many of the residents depend on border trade and the rise of poverty, low income and coupled with the curse of unemployment in Balochistan makes it near to impossible for a common man of the land to bear any financial compromise. Thousands of people work on daily wages who have no sick pay leave nor health coverages. In case if they get sick under these circumstances where the health authorities are urging everyone if you are sick stay at home and isolate for 14 days, they cannot stay home for 14 days for the self-isolation because if they don’t work for a day, then they can’t put foods on the table at their homes.
It is the responsibility of the government to provide support to its citizens during these hard times. All the local, provincial and the federal governments of Pakistan need to play a critical role. They need to work together and find a solution to tackle down this massive crisis. The Government should provide basic facilities to the public hospitals where everyone can be tested properly such as testing kit and personal protection equipment (PPE) for the doctors and nurses who are testing or treating the coronavirus infected people. The government should also take measures to help those families and small businesses who have been affected by this virus.
Sami Parvez is a freelance writer based in Canada, he tweets at @BalochSami and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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