Coronavirus: every day counts


By Khalid bin Majeed

Coronavirus has thrown the entire world in a tailspin, forcing the world capitals to declare national emergencies, quarantine hundreds of thousands of people, slap international travel restrictions, padlock their educational institutions, put off international sports events, allocate big sums of money to fight off the deadly infection and manipulate the flow of information.

The gory tentacles of the infection, which has now been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization [WHO], has almost choked the global food, non-food, and oil supply chains, knocked the bottom out of stock exchanges, and brought the world economies to a virtual standstill. The pandemic is estimated to cause a loss of $1.1tr dollar to $2 trillion to the international economy.

According to the WHO, the so far uncontrollable pandemic is spreading apace affecting 146 countries, areas, or territories. Though health experts have put their heads together to come up with a magic bullet to cure the infection, their efforts seem to be leading nowhere.

The coronavirus is already here, in Pakistan. It’s largely hidden, except for a few dozen cases, but it can be growing exponentially. Already we can see a significant rise in coronavirus tally in Pakistan, with new cases hitting as high as 20 in a single day, which used to be one or two in the earlier days.

In Pakistan, cases have been reported from different cities and provinces: Karachi, Sukkur, Quetta, Gilgit-Baltistan, Lahore and Islamabad. Being unable to contain it, now we have to play a different game: mitigation. We need to make this virus as inoffensive as possible. And the best way to make it possible is ‘social distancing’. It means lesser interactions … by keeping as many people home as possible. Wuhan can certainly be a case study, where complete lockdown helped containing the virus to the city to a large extent.

Being the next-door neighbour of China, we are more prone to coronavirus infection. Pakistan has certainly taken an array of measures to contain its spread. The country has closed its borders with Afghanistan and Iran and all incoming passengers from other countries at all entry points are being screened. Schools, colleges and universities, marriage and banquet halls, shrines and cinemas have been closed, while the jail administrations would allow no visitors initially for three weeks.

Through such measures, if we are able to reduce the coronavirus infections as much as possible, our healthcare system will be able to handle cases much better. Since we can’t eliminate it, our goal must be to postpone it until a vaccine is invented and the humanity is saved from this evil.

Plenty of nonsense about coronavirus cure circulating on social media is another challenge. Albeit, the only authentic ‘cure’ available so far is ‘prevention’. In its latest advisory, the World Health Organization (WHO) has busted all the myths associated with the disease. According to the advisory, coronavirus can be transmitted in all areas, including areas with hot and humid weather; hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19; praying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body; vaccines against pneumonia do not provide protection against coronavirus; regularly rinsing nose with saline does not necessarily protect people from infection; eating garlic does not protect people from coronavirus and people of all ages can be infected by coronavirus.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus. Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after having been in a public place; using a hand sanitizer which contains at least 60% alcohol; and avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands are some of the measures that can help prevent the infection.

Buttressing the government efforts and banking on its huge force of skilled volunteers, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) – indisputably the largest humanitarian organization in Pakistan– under the leadership of Chairman Abrar ul Haq, who himself is a known philanthropist and humanitarian worker, has undertaken a panoply of measures to contain the virus and educate the masses about how to avoid contracting the infection.

The PRCS in close coordination with the IFRC, Movement Partners, and federal and provincial governments, especially the National Institute of Health Islamabad, has launched a nationwide awareness campaign under the slogan #EhtiatKarona and health teams and trained volunteers are working across country to help people stay safe. Qualified screening teams with ambulances have been deployed at Chaman and Taftan borders to support Balochistan health department in screening of people.

A quarantine facility has been established at the Taftan border in addition to provision of six high-tech and fully equipped containers, one generator, and one Watson Plant to the health department. Ambulances with first aiders have been deployed at the Islamabad, Lahore and Quetta airports and National Institute of Health, Islamabad, for transportation of suspected patients to the marked health facilities. The PRCS Merged Areas Branch has deployed an ambulance at the Torkham border as well. A quarantine facility has also been set up at the PRCS Hospital in Rawalpindi in coordination with the National Institute of Health.

Trained volunteers are engaged in different parts of the country sensitizing people to the gravity of the situation and educating them about how to protect themselves from becoming a victim. Awareness brochures were also distributed among the teachers and students before the closure of schools and colleges, and among the public at different points in major cities.

An awareness rally was taken out in Islamabad on March 11 to sensitize the people about the coronavirus challenge. Social media influencers, celebrities, sportsmen, clerics/religious leaders, and prayer leaders in mosques are being engaged in the awareness campaign.

Chairman Abrar ul Haq and myself visited Geneva last week to muster up international support for the PRCS coronavirus contingency strategy. During high-level meetings at the headquarters of IFRC, ICRC and the Swiss Red Cross, we vigorously highlighted the efforts being made by the government of Pakistan as well as the PRCS to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country. The international institutions not only appreciated the measures taken by the PRCS to tackle the disease but also pledged their all-out support to the PRCS to help fight out what has now turned into a global challenge.

The Pakistan Red Crescent Society has always been at the beck and call of the nation and whenever a manmade or natural disaster befell any part of the motherland, it always rose to the occasion and remained in the vanguard of action in accordance with its slogan of “First to Reach, Last to Leave”. The Society commits to spare no effort and pool all of its available resources to help combat the situation.

With everything that’s happening about the coronavirus, it might be hard for us to make decisions. But, we have no time to wait. This is an exponential threat. This is a pandemic now. It can’t be eliminated. But what we can do is reduce its impact. Every day counts. It’s the moment to act. Not from tomorrow. Not from today. Now.

The writer is Secretary General of Pakistan Red Crescent Society.