The Express Tribune Editorial 4 December 2020

Deteriorating air quality


Breathing in big cities of the world is increasingly becoming injurious to health. Recently, Karachi earned the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city of the world, with Lahore and Delhi occupying the second and third positions, respectively, on the list. On Wednesday morning, the port city ranked first on a global Air Quality Index (AQI) as the AQI stood at 331, a level considered extremely harmful. At the same time, in Lahore this was recorded at 280. By 11 am, the AQI in Karachi had come down to 221, which is considered harmful. An AQI of 151-200 is unhealthy; more unhealthy when ranging from 201 to 300 and highly hazardous above 300. Around this time on the same day, Bulgaria’s capital city, Sophia, was at the top of the list of the most polluted cities of the world, followed by Delhi, Lahore and Karachi.
As a matter of fact the air quality in most cities of Pakistan has been deteriorating over the years, with Lahore, Karachi, and Faisalabad being the worst affected. Every year, the air quality starts to deteriorate from September-October and this continues up to February-end. Unfortunately, actions needed to control the air quality are not much in evidence. Industries burning coal and tyres, brick-kilns operating without safety measures in place against air pollution, putting on fire crop residue on farms to save on expenses, and burning of garbage in the open are mainly contributing to the growing air pollution. In April this year, a noticeable improvement in air quality in Karachi had been noticed, though it was in the main the result of a strict lockdown then in force in the city.
This winter the deteriorating quality of air is posing an unprecedented danger to public health because of the coronavirus pandemic, so there was the need for strict enforcement of environmental laws. Things have been left on autopilot for long. This is usual, but ridiculous.



The vaccine is here


So Britain is going to be the first major testing ground for what is being billed as the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine — a collaborative work of the US-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. However, the political race to be the first to roll out the much-anticipated anti-Covid shots has led to China and Russia offering different vaccinations to their citizens ahead of late-stage testing. According to the Russian health minister, 100,000 high-risk people have already been vaccinated in Russia as part of a mass vaccination programme rolled out for Sputnik V, the “first registered vaccine against Covid-19”. Apart from that, the US and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc.
The UK, meanwhile, is all set to start vaccinating its people as early as next week in a major step towards taming the deadly pandemic. The kingdom has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine; and since two vaccine shots three week apart are required for one person to develop immunity, it means the first order will cater to 20 million people. Even though early results suggest the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing mild to severe Covid-19 disease, there are questions whose answers will only be available with time, such as: Will the Pfizer-BioNTech shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing any symptoms? How long will the protection last? How will the vaccine affect pregnant women as well as children under 12 on whom the vaccine has not been tested.
There are other challenges too, like in the shape of anti-vaxxers. Doctors are already confronting skeptics. According to media reports, resistance is also coming from people in the developed world — let alone those in the developing countries where resistance to vaccines among some groups is no news. Conspiracy theories, like the vaccination being a sinister DNA altering exercise, also abound. So here we go!





Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has joined Pervez Musharraf as one of the few prominent Pakistani leaders to have ‘earned’ proclaimed offender status. Nawaz was labeled as such by an accountability court hearing the Toshakhana case after his unsurprising no-show. Nawaz, of course, is in the UK on ‘medical bail’. His lawyers argued before the Islamabad High Court that his health has not improved and produced doctor’s notes saying that he is not cleared to fly, but, given his recent public and online appearances, this is unlikely to be enough to appease the judges, let alone his detractors. It appears clear that this is actually becoming his second foreign exile. However, while questions remain over how he wound up on his Saudi sojourn in the 2000s, there is no question that this one is self-imposed.
The number of Pakistani politicians that go abroad on medical leave and don’t come back to face trial must raise questions for the government. Asif Zardari, Musharraf, and now Nawaz are just a few of the more prominent names. Given the scale of allegations against many such leaders, it is also unsurprising that the expected seizure of property in Pakistan when they fail to return has little impact on their lifestyles abroad. It is for these reasons that we offer a suggestion: if the ruling PTI really wants to fight corruption, it should build a world-class hospital in the country.
In the meantime, it can probably forget about putting Nawaz behind bars. This is because, whatever the merits or demerits of the case, Nawaz’s fiery anti-government speeches have helped him build a strong case for himself to claim that he is a victim of political persecution. Whether or not that is true, the mere fact that he can plausibly make that argument puts the chances for getting a warrant through Interpol near zero. The agency has long made it a point to stay out of member states’ domestic politics. The government will go through the motions, as the court has ordered, but the nature of the reference means that the only realistic way to proceed would be a trial in absentia.

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