Of confused signals to meet Covid-19 challenge
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari

Plagues, earthquakes, floods and fires have shaken humanity in the past. These may continue to wreak havoc on mankind in future as well. Those were all natural disasters. Man-made calamities are proving worse. Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. It kills ruthlessly on a massive scale. Kings and queens never looked as frail as now. Monarchs and maids moan together. Popes and paupers feel the pangs alike. The virus is an equaliser of sorts and it hounds every gender, race and class.
Except for tall claims, rosy plans and familiar opposition-bashing tactics, one hardly noticed any substantial measure to seriously combat the virus onslaught. By our own confession, we learnt around January 15 that corona virus had reached Pakistan. After more than two months, the Adviser to PM on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, said last week that he would gladly welcome the countrymen to share corona-related ideas, if they had any. Even if seen from a positive point of view, Dr Mirza’s suggestion carried a strange connotation. The most brilliant of ideas cannot do the magic if the will to work is lacking.
According to a report carried on fourth of April by our sister publication the Mashriq daily by its special reporter, the KP government had set a target of 2000 tests daily for corona virus. This was announced after the provincial cabinet met in a special session in the Civil Secretariat, where CM Mahmood Khan presided over the session. In a briefing, Adviser to the CM on Information, Ajmal Wazir, said that in order meet the test target, more medical staff would be recruited in hospitals. He feared that corona virus could further spread out in congested city areas. The adviser said that 5300 persons belonging to parties of Tableeghi Jamaat had arrived in KP. Out of these, 300 were foreigners while 70 per cent of them hailed from other provinces. Regardless of the place of origin, necessary facilities were being provided to them.
There was some confusion, if not anger, over offering Friday prayers at home rather than in mosques. To be on safe side, the government referred the matter to Islamic Ideological Council, which in turn sought the opinion of religious scholars in Egypt’s Jamia al-Azhar. The edict from Cairo was that instead of endangering the health of worshippers, there was no harm if Friday prayers or rest of the rituals were observed at home. Some circles said that under the prevailing circumstances, the government should have taken an early and prompt decision on its own. However, the controversy continues to rage in one form or the other.
Meanwhile, the government made sure that general public observed modalities of complete lock-down. Police assisted by FC and army personnel blocked the way to the busy Ashraf Road in city area. Similarly, barricades were put up on way to the congested Nauthia Bazaar in cantonment area so that violations of lock-down could be minimised. Identical measures were taken on eternally choked Kohat Road and Charsadda Road.
When these lines were being written on Sunday evening, the updates given by America’s Johns Hopkins University said that confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the world stood at 1,203,485. The number in US was 311,658, Spain 130,759, Italy124,632 and Pakistan 2,880. State of confusion and concern could be gauged from the fact that President Trump told Americans on Sunday to expect ‘a lot of death’ as cases in US exceeded 300,000. Similarly, UK health secretary said that sunbathing (taking Vitamin D from sun) was against the rules. Police in Britain warned that lockdown could crumble amid growing frustration among people. Exasperated at outdated way the world battled Covid-19, Professor David J Hunter of Britain showed his displeasure in these words: “We are fighting a 21st-century disease with 20th-century weapons!”
Trained in neurobiology, the Indian-born British writer, Kenan Malik had also been watching the situation very closely. Giving his impressions about the unusual pressure on men and machines in hospitals, he said: “The anesthetic machines designed to work for two to three hours at most, have been running for four to five days straight. We are already getting leaks and failures. Whether in the UK or the developing world, we’re not all in coronavirus together”.
Meanwhile, psychologists understandably looked at the matter from a purely human angle. For example, Ian Hickie of Australia’s Sydney University said that mental health of human beings was as important as physical health. Speaking to BBC via Skype on March 30, he said that it was thoroughly unnatural for human beings to stay shut indefinitely into homes and observe social distancing. He said that people’s mental health was at grave risk because television was thoughtlessly beaming into eyes disturbing images of dead bodies round the clock. It was creating fear by constantly showing Covid-19 patients put on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
After watching this scaring footage, the human beings naturally feared that they were going to die and doctors would not be able to save them. They feared that economies were bound to collapse and food was going to end. This badly weakened their immunity and it could also adversely affect their mental health. The psychologist said that in order to minimise the damages of this massive depiction of negativity, the home-bound people in lockdowns should keep talking to one another by phone.
Ian Hickie’s warning said that unbearable baggage of anxiety, depression and loneliness might land the people into already choked psychiatry wards. A similar warning was sounded by Dr Yatanpal Singh Balhara of the Department of Psychiatry and National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). In a television appearance on second of April, Dr YS Balhara said that ‘social distancing’ should not mean ‘social disconnecting’. He said that socially people should stay connected as much as possible by using the available online facilities of WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and others.
The economic impact of coronavirus was also visible. For the first time after 2004, India showed willingness to accept monetary aid from foreign countries to cope with the snowballing corona crisis. Some years back when flood situation in Tamil Nadu state got out of control, New Delhi was offered foreign aid. However, it politely refused to accept not only the official UAE aid but also declined the financial assistance coming from organisations of Christian community based in the Emirates. At that time, India-watchers said that behind Delhi’s reluctance it was not any self-respect or diplomatic scruple but the innate desire not to give a chance to its Muslim population to play up the UAE card and use the Gulf aid gesture as an election stunt.