Dawn Editorial 16 November 2020

Covid resurgence

THE worst fears about the second wave of Covid-19 in the country appear to be coming true as daily deaths, hospitalisations and positive cases rise at alarming rates. On a single day, Nov 14, 39,410 people were tested for the virus. Confirmed new cases on the same day were reported to be 2,443 — an indication that the national positivity ratio is a staggering 6pc.
The number of those succumbing to coronavirus-related complications, too, is rising. In recent days, a Peshawar High Court judge, an MPA and a journalist were among the over 180 recorded virus deaths across cities. All these indicators show that the Covid-19 curve in Pakistan is moving upwards despite the period of respite post-August when the curve was flattened through lockdown measures.
Read: Is Pfizer’s vaccine the answer to Pakistan’s Covid-19 problem?
Yet, even as we appear to be moving rapidly towards a dreadful stage of the pandemic, public activity — including superspreader events like political rallies and huge weddings — are in full swing. Out in public spaces, mask-wearing and distancing is still a rarity.
This casual attitude points to a tremendous failure of leadership. In a crisis that demands responsible behaviour, our government is flouting its own advice of limiting gatherings and is staging rallies to counter an equally careless opposition. During the first wave, rising cases and a fear of the unknown forced authorities to take action. The measures taken at the time included strong public messaging, strict enforcement of SOPs and a national conversation around the prevention of Covid-19.
Today, however, even as infection rates rival the stark figures of July, that vigour and direction are missing. Aside from the NCOC’s warnings, Covid-19 is largely absent from the government’s messaging and, as a result, fails to register as a threat with members of the public. Hence, SOPs are being flouted, mass events, often indoors, are taking place unabated and the appetite for prevention is low. It appears the government is currently playing a reactive rather than a proactive role — a strategy which has come at a high human and economic cost in other countries.
The government must get its house in order. The myth of the miracle immunity that the authorities had banked on after the first wave is fast evaporating as the data paints a bleak picture. Still, the loss of life and the economic setbacks can be limited if the government acts fast and tackles the pandemic as a priority. This can be done with a strong awareness campaign, ramped-up testing and strict restrictions on gatherings of more than a handful of people.
Mask wearing should be non-negotiable in workplaces and schools, as the rampant spread in these spaces may force an unwelcome closure at a later stage. With a renewed vigour led by data and science, the government should be able to lower the curve. Anything less is unacceptable.



Invasion of privacy

UNLAWFUL surveillance and invasion of privacy corrode the very foundations of a democratic social order based on universal principles of human rights. No information obtained through these methods is worth that price. Justice Mansoor Ali Shah in his dissenting note in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa case makes clear his disquiet over the means used by the Asset Recovery Unit with the help of the intelligence agencies to obtain information about the petitioner judge and his family. “In our constitutional democracy, it is essential that everyone enjoys his or her domain of freedom, free from government intrusion — lest it aim to check an unlawful activity,” writes the judge in the 65-page document. Indeed, he says, so critical is the issue that “in it lays the destiny of our people and the future course of our country”.
Institutional imbalances have contributed to such a polarised and cut-throat environment in this country that the constitutionally protected rights to personal liberty, privacy and dignity have fallen by the wayside. Many a forward bloc is said to have been created and political rupture engineered through the judicious use of incriminating personal information obtained on the sly. Instances abound of unlawfully accessed information being deployed to gain an upper hand over perceived adversaries, including judges, politicians, bureaucrats and journalists. One reason cited for the dismissal of Ms Bhutto’s second government in 1996 was illegal wiretapping of judges’ phones. In its verdict upholding that dismissal, the Supreme Court held that phone tapping and eavesdropping by government authorities was immoral, illegal and unconstitutional. In 2007, during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s government, surveillance photos of then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s residence and transcripts of evidently bugged conversations were presented in the Supreme Court, which then ordered a sweep of judges’ homes and courtrooms for spying devices. Nevertheless, the invasion of privacy continued as before. In June 2015, ISI personnel disclosed to the Supreme Court that the agency had tapped close to 7,000 telephones across the country during the previous month. Recently, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz claimed in an interview that during her incarceration, the authorities had placed cameras inside her jail cell and bathroom. If there is any truth to these allegations, then those who carry out such despicable acts and continue to do so despite repeated admonishments by the court have plumbed the depths of indecency. This grotesque disregard for human dignity must end here and now.


Ethiopia conflict

VIOLENCE has flared in Ethiopia over the last several days, as an internal conflict has pitted the country’s Tigray state against the federal government in Addis Ababa. While the party that controls Tigray says it has fired rockets into a neighbouring state, Amnesty International has observed that a massacre involving “scores, and likely hundreds, of people” has occurred in the town of Mai-Kadra. The violence risks destabilising Ethiopia internally, and also has the potential to spread to the rest of East Africa; opponents of the government say they may target neighbouring Eritrea, while Sudan has been receiving refugees from the conflict. Defusing the internal crisis will be a major test for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who won 2019’s Nobel Peace Prize for his peace agreement with Eritrea. However, in this case, Mr Ahmed seems to be talking tough, ordering military action against the TPLF party that runs Tigray, in an apparent effort to stop other states and regions from offering open resistance to the centre.
While the Ethiopian authorities have insisted this is an internal matter, they should not refuse the good offices of the UN or the African Union that can be used to defuse the crisis. After all, stability has come to the country after much turmoil. The 1980s were a turbulent time, especially under the Marxist Derg regime, which saw civil war as well as conflict with Eritrea and a devastating famine. To ensure that this painful history does not repeat itself, the Ethiopian prime minister must take the lead and invite his opponents to the negotiating table instead of looking for a victory on the battlefield. In a multiethnic and multireligious state like Ethiopia, the use of force may bring temporary respite, but tensions bubbling underneath may well explode in due course. Also, Ethiopia’s internal stability is important for the entire Horn of Africa, as in neighbouring Somalia, the world has witnessed how horribly things can go wrong should conflict — aided by the collapse of the state — continue unabated.



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