Of death that looms large on corona-prone public
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
To say that life after lockdown has become uncertain is like stating the obvious. Unusual times require unusual measures for which nobody is really prepared. Covid-19 is ruthless and it can strike at will. It attacks kings and slaves alike. The weak and the mighty feel equally helpless. Doctors say that 98 per cent of corona victims may have the chance to survive and only two per cent stand at risk. However, the fear is widespread. Panic is common. Hospitals are choking. Healthcare systems are crumbling. Death stares hard at the penniless. Most optimists on the planet are hoping against hope. Casualties keep multiplying. There is little consolation if some patients defeat the infection and walk home cured. Well-placed observers affirmed (first, diplomat Abdullah Hussain Haroon and later Professor Dr Attaur Rahman, partly agreeing) that the tragedy is not natural but biologically engineered by human beings. This reminds one of lines from Wordsworth: “And much is grieved my heart to think/what man has made of man!”
As infections soared and unemployment figures skyrocketed, the US became new epicentre of the global pandemic. When these lines were being written on Sunday evening, the updated corona statistics continued to be alarming. Generally trusted Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, stated that total deaths in the world stood at 30,652. Confirmed cases were 660,000, whereas the figure of recovered cases (139,415) sent out a glimmer of hope.
In an unprecedented act, the US Congress moved forward by unanimously passing a rescue package worth two trillion dollars. Out of this amount an average family of four persons was supposed to get about 3400 dollars. The pandemic has rapidly been catastrophic to world’s largest economy which appears to be nose-diving into recession. Shocking indeed was the disclosure made by US labour department. It said that last week people who applied for unemployment benefits were as many as 3.3 million. This was the highest number ever recorded over such a short period in that part of the advanced world.
Up to March 24, Prime Minister Imran Khan was against a total lockdown of the country. In a news conference, he said that such a move might adversely affect the daily-wagers and 25 to 45 per cent of those living below the poverty line. However, newsmen wondered whether any credible statistics of daily-wagers or those slipping below the poverty line were available with the government. It is alright to raise the ‘tiger force’ or give a call for volunteers to distribute food packets but one must know where in town the paupers await starvation.
There were reports that over February and March some residents of Peshawar returned from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Instead of reporting for a corona test, they went into hiding in such congested areas as Hashtnagri, Kohati and Koochi Bazaar. It was feared that, in case of being infected, they could spread the virus. Therefore, the provincial government asked the law enforcing agencies to mount an intelligence-based hunt. For such a drive, police was using the services of its informers, health volunteers and ‘mohalladars’ (locality elders). It was hoped that in due course law enforcers would successfully track down the suspected carriers.
Meanwhile, there was a sense of panic among people over the rapid spread of virus. A look at the national scene showed 14 deaths and 1526 corona patients. Out of these Sindh had 469, Punjab 570, Balochistan 138, KP 188, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK 118 and Islamabad 43. In Peshawar, results of laboratory reports of another 304 suspected cases were being awaited. In a rare incident from 10pm to midnight on March 24, city’s revered spiritual figure Syed Sultan Agha appealed to citizens to seek divine help in times of distress. As “Save our Souls” (SoS), therefore, muezzins from loud speakers of various mosques and the faithful from rooftops gave out prayer call.
As if in a countrywide wheel-jam strike of olden days, all express trains running between Karachi and Peshawar came to a grinding halt. Federal Minister for Railways, Sheikh Rashid, said that passengers who had obtained tickets in advance could claim refund without any deduction. Only a few days back, he said that on Sindh government’s request he was cancelling all Karachi-bound trains but the railways department had no (ticket) money to return to affected passengers. Later, it was said that passengers could get back the ticket money without any deduction.
According to lunar calendar, the ritual of ‘zakat’ (giving away 2.5% of wealth and jewellery to the deserving) is normally performed during the Islamic month of Sha’ban, which began on March 26. However, looking at hardships of the destitute in coronavirus lockdown, the kind-hearted men and women started distributing ‘zakat’ money a month early in Rajab. Many of them announced that those in need could contact them on given mobile phone numbers after which volunteers on motorbikes or Suzuki vans would promptly rush with free food.
Like elsewhere in the world on March 27, people in Pakistan also showed solidarity with health workers – doctors, nurses and other paramedics – who risked their lives by working overtime in hospitals to save others. When health workers marched past residential areas, people from terraces, windows and porches greeted them by singing, clapping of hands or metal plates and flashing white flags at them. People in Pakistan played the recording of Jawad Ahmad’s song: “tum maseeha ho iss qaum ke; hamain tum se piyar hai” (you are nation’s messiah; we love you).
Let us hope and pray that the nation of 240 million people or more continues to adore the doctors and scientists. We wish that messiahs may also continue to heal the sick and ailing humanity. Their crusade against sickness and disease is widely appreciated. It is duly rewarded by the government and immensely hailed by the general public. Let them also wage war on pockets of illiteracy, ignorance and stupidity, seen in recent corona days. It was annoying the way some people defied lockdown instructions. As a result, they had to face embarrassment or punishment at the hands of police.