During the Wednesday sitting, a former Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, delivered an example-setting speech. Without being loud and rude, he put forth some fundamental questions, which made many of us to seriously wonder whether the Imran government really had an effective-looking strategy to combat COVID-19.

At the outset of his speech, he focused on solid data, collected on the day after easing of the lockdown. All across the country, 11848 tests were conducted on this day of which 2555 were declared positive. This indicates a 19 percent prevalence rate. He felt that these numbers should force us to wake up; during the lockdown days, positive cases had never crossed the rate of 10 percent.

Doubling of the percentage also triggered the fear that Pakistan has perhaps begun to leap to a peak, which in countries like Italy eventually collapsed the public health system. Abbassi also put some pertinent questions regarding “the protocol”, if we had developed any, when it comes to testing and treatment of Corona patients.

Before promoted to Prime Minister’s office, Abbassi had been serving all the governments, headed by Nawaz Sharif, by holding high profile offices and ministries. The accumulated experience helped him to demolish the Imran government’s repeated claims that provincial governments were exclusively responsible to handle all issues, related to public health.

Referring to rules of (official) business, he was able to project the reality that federal government remained the one and only authority for dealing with dangerous contagions. Eradication of Polio, for example, remains a federal subject. The same has to be the case with COVID-19.

More surprising, however, was the speech delivered by Khawaja Saad Rafique. Since the late 1980s, this PML-N MNA from Lahore has been living with the reputation of a street agitator and a rabble-rouser. After the advent of Imran government, NAB took no time to arrest him under serious charges of corruption. After spending more than 18 months in jail, he was eventually released on bail by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

He didn’t sound bitter, even for a second, during his speech and mostly highlighted issues related to testing and possible measures for expanding its range and standards.

 

Starting from Shafqat Mehmud, the education minister, almost each speaker from the PTI benches, remained stuck to a self-satisfying narrative. They felt too pleased about the fact that Pakistan seemingly eluded the heart-wrenching scenes, Corona had unleashed in some highly developed and rich countries like the USA. This, according to them, clearly showed that the Imran government quickly developed an effective and delivering strategy to combat Corona. Thanks to the same strategy, they could now afford easing the lockdown.

 

The government representatives feel extremely annoyed with the behavior of the PPP-led government in Sindh. They keep blaming it for playing the “regional card” and maligning the federal governments with false claims and accusations. They also keep on drumming the message that the PPP government in Sindh continues to exploit the autonomy, guaranteed through the 18th amendment in our Constitution, to run this province like a conquered fiefdom.

 

Salahuddin, the MQM member from Hyderabad, forcefully endorsed the government promoted narrative. He rather accused the “big landlords,” allegedly crowding the PPP, for being ruthlessly indifferent to millions living in the urban areas of Sindh. These areas had not been voting for the PPP since 1985, he recalled, and the PPP had thus adopted a “vindictive attitude towards them”. The PTI backbenchers from Karachi applauded his stance with spirited desk thumping. His speech almost resurrected the urban/rural divide and dangerously cultivated prejudices related to it since the early 1970s.

 

One feels forced to repeat with a hurt heart that most speeches, delivered in both the houses of parliament, were recklessly preventing the possible evolution of an all-inclusive and unified strategy for combating Corona. The whole exercise is rather deepening the partisan divide, which had already turned unbearable, in Pakistan.

 

One can only wish that before summoning the parliamentary sessions, the Imran government had seriously worked for developing a playbook, subtly compelling the parliamentary debate to stay focused on COVID-19. Asad Umer, the minister of planning, daily presides meetings of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC). This high-powered body collects data from multiple sources. Chief Ministers of all our provinces are then asked to help evolving a strategy to deal with the pandemic.

 

At the outset of each sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate, I strongly feel, Asad Umar should have shared latest data with the parliamentarians. That could persuade members to seriously ponder over the information, put before them, to think for a set of relevant questions and refrain from indulging in mudslinging and point scoring.

 

After attentively watching three parliamentary sittings since the start of ongoing week, we have yet to find out the aggregated capacity of our federal and the provincial governments, when it comes to testing. All over the world, the media has been constantly talking of “false negatives.” We must know what is the scene here.

 

During his speech, Saad Rafique had rightfully pointed out that only a Level-3 Lab could ensure authentic testing. The parliamentary discussion on Corona had shamefully failed to tell us as to how many laboratories of this standard were operating in Pakistan.

 

Privately run labs, Rafique also revealed, were charging an exorbitant amount to test a person. He suggested some doable initiatives, which could motivate those labs to not charge more than 2000 rupees for a test.

 

In the context of testing, Shahid Khakan Abbassi had also demanded a “protocol” for it. He was correct to recall that affluent types were increasing the burden of testing by approaching the government or privately run Labs to seek solace and comfort. This surely denies the left behind millions the opportunity to get timely testing, even after developing symptoms, strongly suggesting the attack by Corona. “Nowhere in the world,” he claimed, “such luxury is savored on such a mass scale.”

 

The PTI representatives continued to compare the state of Corona in Pakistan with countries like the US and Italy. To an extent, they were justified to feel good about it. The pandemic in Pakistan has surely not developed with the speed and scale, witnessed in many countries of the world.

 

Pakistan, however, is not the ONLY country of South Asia, showing a different and somewhat unique kind of a trend, when it came to Corona. Except New Delhi, most metropolitan cities of India had also eluded, so far, the frightening development, in spite of being crowded with high-density clusters.

 

This reality had forced many virologists of the world to find out causes that project the whole of South Asia, as if somewhat unique, in the times of Corona-driven pandemic. No convincing answers had yet been found. But the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to worryingly forewarn that countries like Pakistan must not presume that Corona would not hit them. Without saying it, clearly, our rulers seem to have visibly taken the route to “herd immunity.” Not one speaker during three parliamentary sittings, however, cared to discuss this side of the story.