The Express Tribune Editorial 23 December 2020

Of cleanliness and transfers


The municipal body looking after civic matters in Lahore has paid more than Rs320 billion to foreign companies in the past seven years for garbage lifting in the city. Earlier, the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation carried out the sanitation work with an annual expenditure of Rs2.5 billion. The cost of the same work has increased many times over but the quality of services has only been declining with the passage of time. A cursory glance is sufficient to confirm the growing complaints of garbage left un-cleared for months together and deterioration in the overall sanitation.
Garbage collection was outsourced during chief minister Shehbaz Sharif’s reign to foreign firms, and they were to be paid $18 a tonne for lifting garbage. Then the dollar stood at Rs70, but now the US currency is worth Rs160. The seven-year contract with the foreign companies is to expire on December 31. In view of the increasing expenses and deteriorating services, officials of the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) want the sanitation work to be reverted to the LWMP by ending the outsourcing system. However, their move aimed at preventing the waste of resources is facing stiff opposition from the bureaucracy and greedy mafia groups. The vested interests are not letting officials of the company stay in their posts. Over the past four years as many MDs and three deputy MDs have been removed. The chairman of the company has also resigned.
The company’s board of directors has decided that the LWMC will do the work of garbage collection and sanitation. The company has invited tenders from local firms for garbage collection and allocated Rs110 billion for the purpose over the next seven years. However, contractors are unwilling to lift garbage without renewal of their contracts. Employees of the company went on strike over non-payment of their pay. Their salaries were withheld for unhygienic conditions in the city. Many areas in Lahore are no different from Karachi in terms of bad sanitation. ‘We will overcome corruption someday’ should not be a sentence of future impossible tense. We shall overcome someday!



New Covid-19 variant


The United Kingdom has been isolated by the neighbouring European countries as well as a lot of others in other continents. Reason? A highly infectious strain of the Covid-19 coronavirus has been detected in the UK. Pakistan has joined the burgeoning list of countries that have placed restrictions on travellers from the kingdom. Flights from Britain have already been suspended by several European and Middle Eastern countries, as well as Canada, India and Hong Kong. The French even closed their border for goods trucks, meaning that supply shortages of some products may well be on the horizon. Meanwhile, even Northern Ireland — a component country of the UK — is mulling closing the internal border with the rest of Britain.
That makes it unsurprising that Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre placed a week-long temporary restriction starting Wednesday. The restriction, which is extendable in terms of duration, will apply to everyone that has been in the UK during the 10 days before travel. Exemptions will be made for transit passengers who never leave their UK airports as well as Pakistani passport holders in the UK on tourist visas. However, they will have to meet some basic requirements such as Covid-19 tests before and after travel. They will also have to quarantine for one week on arrival in Pakistan and follow our test and trace policies.
Even though experts across the world have reassured that the new strain does not appear to be deadlier or more vaccine-resistant than the more widespread one, the fact that it is more contagious is enough justification for the abundance of prudence being shown. For instance, in South East England the modeling data suggests that the number of infections have increased from 100 cases per 100,000 in early October to 400 cases per 100,000 in December. The new strain has also been detected in other European countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, and as far away as Australia and South Africa.
While some Britons may complain about their travel plans — specially related to the approaching Christmas and New Year — their domestic leadership is not really helping matters. Bogged down by his failure to get a favourable Brexit deal, which was essentially the only thing that got Prime Minister Boris Johnson elected, his administration is struggling to keep their stories straight. As Prime Minister Johnson tried to urge caution and responsibility, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was essentially saying the world is on fire. Okay, what he did say was, “The new variant is out of control,” but that does not sound much better.
It also doesn’t help that UK authorities have apparently known about the new strain since September but started openly talking about it only last week. In the meantime, Prime Minister Johnson, despite knowing of the new strain, was announcing relaxations of the UK’s lockdown policies ahead of Christmas. And while those relaxations have since been withdrawn, it is still not a good look when some in his government are still trying to accuse China of covering up the spread of the original strain.
Pakistan, meanwhile, has done a good swift job by coming up with UK-specific restrictions. But the authorities here must also make sure the restrictions are strictly followed. There must be no complacency and no casual handling of the potentially emerging situation.

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