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Tuesday Apr 07 2020

To combat coronavirus, Pakistan is taking a page from China’s playbook

A traffic police officer walks past barriers used to block the road in front of the British era Empress Market building, during a lockdown after Pakistan shut all markets, public places and discouraged large gatherings amid an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Photo: Reuters

Awareness campaigns have been ramped across Pakistan as the country continues to see a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country.

Though the country so far managed to control the outbreak, by locking down parts of the country, imposed curfews and called on volunteers to help, as parts of its efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

“It is undoubtedly a huge challenge for us for a very simple reason. We are a developing country,” Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, Pakistan’s ambassador to China said during a recent interview with CGTN.

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Hashmi said that, in the example of implementing social distancing, in heavily populated cities, sometimes more than 10 people live in one small house, and a huge portion of the nation’s labour force depends on daily wages, which requires the government to find a balance between allowing businesses to stay open to a degree, and taking public health measures.

One silver lining in dealing with the crisis, however, could be Pakistan’s close ties with China. Pakistan recently welcomed an eight-member Chinese medical team and received crucial medical supplies worth millions of Chinese yuan.

The relief aid includes personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves, testing kits, x-ray machines, and even traditional Chinese medicines. According to Ambassador Hashmi, Chinese enterprises have promised the delivery of more donations.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Chinese friends who during this great time of crisis for us, have once again shown that the best friendship in the world that exists between two nations,” she said.

Read also: Chinese doctors advise Punjab to ensure lockdown for at least 28 days

Besides supplies, China’s tactics in combating COVID-19 could prove to be equally if not more helpful for Pakistan.

Given Pakistan’s huge population and shortage of testing kits, Ambassador Hashmi said, the entire population could not be tested, which is why they were learning from the Chinese experience and working on how to test as many people as possible.

The method involves testing people who show symptoms, and if they test positive, then find their close contacts in the past 14 days, and test and quarantine them.

Other lessons from China include setting up temporary hospitals for patients with mild symptoms and setting up neighbourhood communities to monitor the health conditions of the populations.

Adding Pakistani characteristics to these methods, train coaches have been converted into quarantine facilities, and mosques in Pakistan have been given the task to watch out for the community, and report the illness to authorities, particularly in the rural areas.

Even Pakistani students who were stranded in Wuhan at the peak of China’s outbreak served as accidental ambassadors of information.

According to Ambassador Hashmi, there are more than 28,000 Pakistani students in China, and 1,300 of them were concentrated in Hubei.

As the understandably worried and scared students stirred debates about repatriation, “the government was constantly engaging with the public on media and the newspapers about what China is doing to ensure that Chinese people, but also foreigners, particularly the Pakistani people were being kept safe,” said Hashmi.

When the virus eventually appeared in Pakistan, Hashmi said that “the general public, to a large extent, was already aware of what the disease is, what havoc it can create, how difficult it is to control it, and how important it is for the population to cooperate with the government and with the medics and hospitals.”