‘Children playing cricket in the streets’: LHC livid over lax lockdown measures against coronavirus

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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday directed the federal government to provide details to court of pilgrims who have returned from Iran over the past few weeks, as well as data on Pakistani nationals stranded in foreign countries because of the coronavirus

A bench headed by LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan also sought the complete details of facilities being provided to citizens returning from abroad. The bench was hearing a petition questioning the measures taken by the government against the coronavirus epidemic.

Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Shahid Jamil Khan, and Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi were the other members of the bench. Additional Attorney General Ishtiaq Khan, Acting Advocate General Punjab Shan Gul, Secretary Specialized Health Nabeel Awan, and Secretary Primary Healthcare Muhammad Usman were present.

‘Federal government not serious about situation’

During proceedings, the bench asked the federal government how many pilgrims were still stranded in Iran, to which the additional AG said that around 600 Pakistanis were still in Iran, but were set to return to their home country soon.

The court expressed annoyance at the government for not taking timely steps to ensure the safe return of the pilgrims, and a judge remarked that the government had allowed pilgrims from Iran to return to their homes in Pakistan instead of stopping them at the Taftan border.

“Now they have become a major source of the spread the novel virus in the country,” the judge added. “The federal government does not look serious in handling the extraordinary situation,” the judge observed.

Secretary Primary Healthcare Usman, upon being asked about the matter, said that three quarantine centres had been set up at Taftan, Chaman and Khyber borders. “A quarantine centre has also been established in Islamabad for the citizens returning to the country through special international flights,” he told the court.

During the hearing, the bench observed that all emergency steps to deal with the epidemic should be given legal cover, and asked the law officer present in court to apprise the judges whether banks could deduct Zakat early to help out daily wagers.

Justice Khan, in his remarks, said that daily wagers were bearing the brunt of the economic crisis after the virus outbreak and the entire society needed to take care of them. “It is our Islamic, as well as national, duty,” he said.

The bench further observed that if international flights to Pakistan had been stopped, it was odd that permission had been granted to bring Pakistanis stranded in Qatar back home in a special flight. “What is the fault of Pakistanis stranded in the US, the UK, and other countries, why the government is discriminating against them? There should be a uniform policy for all,” a judge said.

The secretary health, upon being questioned about the moves, said that a health emergency had been imposed in the country and the best health facilities were being provided to patients. Answering a court, the secretary health said that diagnostic centres would be set up at the divisional level after the approval of the cabinet.

‘Children playing cricket in the streets’

Secretary Specialized Health Nabeel Awan told the court that a testing facility would be started at two hospitals within a day. He pointed out that 430 ventilators at public sector hospitals were available in Lahore, and 452 in the private sector, while a total of 752 were also available in other districts of the province.

Briefing the court on measures to contain the virus in prison, IG prisons apprised the bench that a prisoner tested positive for the coronavirus had been quarantined. “490 prisoners are being screened, who are suspected to have contacted him. Prisoners are also screened before their release on bail,” he said.

The bench also expressed concern over the non-implementation of the health emergency and lockdown in the province, saying that children had been witnessed playing cricket on the streets and in parks.

The bench also took notice of the costly test of the coronavirus being conducted by private labs, and directed the government to rationalize the prices of the test in the private sector. The bench adjoined further hearing into the petition till March 27.

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