As this is not the time to play politics but to save our people from the deadly attacks of this bio terrorism by this deadly virus, I consider it as my utmost national obligation to write this open letter to all the political parties of the country and the Government to come together to fight this deadly virus. We delayed in calling the Army Medical Corps (AMC) which should have been the part of the anti-coronavirus movement from day one. I was entrusted with this duty by the chairman senate and our committee along with other stake holders worked day and night to brief the people and government. The polarised political system will further endanger the people as I still see a plot used and blame game policy with divided opinion.

I have been saying this before and even now the entire anti corona virus operation should be handed over to AMC for an effective and result oriented approach to block virus to multiply its victims. I along with my other committee members had lot of work with objectives, identification and counter measures have been suggested. Sindh followed it partially and gave partial good results whereas I have been closely watching the behavior of this deadly virus worldwide. Let us forget as to how this virus came into being. It does not matter at the moment as to who is the inventor of this virus but the fact is that this has attained its status of bio-terrorism which has set its own rules of action and defines its endless boundaries.

I have been closely watching the behavior of this deadly virus worldwide. Let us forget as to how this virus came into being. It does not matter at the moment as to who is the inventor of this virus but the fact is that this has attained its status of bio-terrorism which has set its own rules of action and defines its endless boundaries. This bio-terrorism nourishes within your own beloved body rather you protect it within your body and you pass it on to your own loved ones and friends. This is no more a simple health issue but it has become a national security risk and can create numerous national security issues including direct effects on our national vital organs.

We all knew that it has come to attack us and I warned the nation much earlier recommending 30 advices to block these invisible millions of suicide bombers which are going to attack us from all routes and if not stopped well in time it will become very lethal. These 30 points recommendations were sent to the ministry of interior and health on 27th February, 2020 but the government took it light.

The meeting dated 27th February discusses the adverse effects both in our civilian sector and defense sector as we have integrated society and there are no visible red lines between the civilians and defense forces. I stated on the 27th February that the borders and airports must be screened out by the AMC as our civilian doctors and health para medical staff is not capable of handling this alien bio-terrorism.

Then I appealed to the COAS and Prime Minister to bring in AMC to assist the civilian for testing and setting up of civilian isolation centres. Thanks to the COAS for this initiative and it seems that our AMC is preparing to find this bio-terrorism which only demonstrates through its entry in human body and I hope and pray AMC is in strong position to fight it with their professional and unmatched skills.

First Blunder - The government took it light and despite timely advice did not raise the border force with fast orientation and briefing for handling the incoming victims to Pakistan entering through frequented and in frequented routers. We did not bother even when it was declared pandemic.

I again requested the government to get handful testing kits but the government did not want to spend money and were still looking for some aid and charity supply in the form of testing Kits and ventilator. Once again the instructions to this effect were given directing them to imports kits and allocation of Rs.20 billions, but in vain.

Dear all we are aware, the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly developing into an existential Security Threat for the country, which is stymieing our future progress, and is menacing to devastate each and every institution and individual of the country.

Unfortunately, no fool-proof strategy or policy has been developed so far to restore the confidence of the public and to strengthen their morale for combating this looming Coronavirus mega-crisis. Our ability to meet the international standards or conventions in the pandemic situations is also falling quite short. Neither we have the resources nor have the will to transfer funds from the other projects.

The federal and provincial governments and the national institutions within their available resources are making flat-out efforts to counter the risk when it is already penetrated widely in the country. This deterioration in public morale and confidence remains at low side.  Such a situation of despondency is vulnerable to enemy’s exploitation, and could result in several uncontrollable consequences which I would not like to discuss here.

In complete honesty, and without any intention of criticism or blame-game, I find the present Counter-Coronavirus from the day one to be much below the mark, and inadequate to meet the growing challenges and that is why are landing more deep trouble.

Though, fully cognizant of the gloomy economic circumstances, but to rescue our people from slipping into the horrible whirlpool of this bio-terrorism/coronavirus, we have no option to divert our resources urgently and to place the disposal of AMC through monitoring mechanism to make some visible progress for the protection of general public to restore the sinking trust and confidence.

Whereas the government is reluctant to spend on the counter-coronavirus measures which is not a good message for the general public and non-availability of funds will bring only very little change to cater for emergent facilities required for testing, quarantining, medicines and provision of ventilators, as per my following observations:-

(a) There are only 5 ventilators in whole Rawalpindi and Islamabad where as there are only 1500 ventilators in the rest of the country and the government and politician tell honestly that the can the country fight this ever growing bio-terrorism with this equipment.

(b) Shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):​ There is an acute shortage of Testing Kits, protective Masks for the doctors and para-medical staff, Protective Coveralls, etc.  Ostensibly, Doctors are compelled to make public statements expressing their incapacitation to address the issue in such circumstances.

(c) Un-Trained Service Providers:​The staff and officials of various institutions, deployed at public places and expected to be the first responders to Coronavirus exigencies, lack in appropriate training and are without PPE.  Not only they are exposed to the infection, but also cannot perform to the desied levels.

(d) Insufficient Funding or Release Thereof:​Unfortunately, meagre amounts have been allocated to Health Departments, DRAP etc., and those too are not being released in time, forcing these end-users to seek donations and contributions, which in fact erodes the public trust and faith in the departments as well as the government.

(e) Lack of indiscriminate Testing Facility:​There is growing perception amongst the general public of being discriminated and being denied the testing facility on one pretext or the other. The increasing black-marketing, coercion by quacks, and proliferation of counterfeit testing kits and medicines is further aggravating the situation.

(f) Delayed Test Results:​Due to insufficient credible Testing Labs, or high costs, patients on one hand are being denied tests and timely results, until they are critically sick, in which case, further complications and agony overtakes the treatment.  Ironically, the expenses involved are practically beyond the capacity of a common man.  It is thus extremely important that the strategy of determining the eligibility for testing needs to be immediately reviewed, while the costs need to be suitably subsidized in a meaningful way to mitigate the issue.

In view of the above observations I propose that that government may kindly take immediate actions by adopting following measures: -

(a) Pre-emptive Measures or Identification Kits etc.:​ The constitution of Pakistan provides equal opportunity for proper health and care hence government should provide free of cost coronavirus testing to every citizen who feels vulnerable or needs tests. There is a deep perception amongst the public, particularly, those who have to use public transport for commuting, visit or work large infrastructures etc., that there is no effective or trustworthy mechanism to filter out potential Coronavirus victims, who may not be aware that they are at risk.  We must therefore, as rapidly as possible, equip such infrastructures with safe and reliable detection equipment.

(b) Quarantine Centres:​Learning lessons from the havoc wreaked by inadequate quarantining in recent past, we must prepare for the worst, and very quickly develop quarantine centers, which meet the requisite medical or WHO standards.  This would be an essential action towards restoring the public confidence and preparing the second Line of Defence (First being Social Distancing and Self Isolation).  In this context, I recommend that:

(i) Medical Colleges & Hospitals: All the hospitals associated with private medical colleges should be converted into Quarantine Centres, with the colleges being made responsible to ensure minimum standards.  The local doctors, and students, where appropriate, should be trained into emergency support.

(ii) Wedding Halls and Marquees: All wedding Halls and Marquees should be converted into Quarantine Centres, since they have adequate infrastructure and would need minimum structural changes.

(iii) Encouraging Medical Personnel: It is unfortunate that our entire para-medical staff and doctors are fully exposed to risk because of lack of proper medical kits to be used for treating the coronavirus patients. Hence arrangements for such medical kits both for the civilian and Army doctors and para-medical staff should be procured and appeal be made to the local manufacturers to increase the production and supply to the government urgently. Any doctor or Para-Medic losing his life in way of service, should be given a hero’s status and compensation package equivalent to the Military be given to him.  The Military may own him posthumously, as an honorary officer or staff.

(c) Lock-Down:​ The announcement made yesterday for lockdown is not being observed in its true letter and spirit. To impose compulsory social distancing and prevention of undetected spread of the Coronavirus, it is essential to contain and isolate families, for atleast the known incubation period of the Coronavirus, enabling in identifying and quarantining and treating the potential infected persons.  There is need to carry out appropriate Isolation through simultaneous District level Lock-Down, which, if need be, may be imposed through Curfew or Deployment of Military. 

(d) NADRA for Identifying Infected Areas. Through digital coordination, NADRA should continuously update the Health Authorities / National Corona Virus Monitoring Centre, with the geo-referencing of the patient and persons suspected to have been in contact with patient.  Appropriate quarantining effort be carried out thereafter.

(e) Strengthening National Unity: A ban should be imposed on politicians from any blame game and coronavirus should not be used as a ball to play political game and the Prime Minister may himself invite all heads of the political parties and create a unity to evolve a unified approach to benefit from all parties and groups across board, for a discourse in context of Coronavirus advising actions with collective responsibility. Strategies hammered out may be adopted by the government for immediate implementation. I personally feel that the political parties may continue their internal consultations but it should end to the some proposals. I propose a combined meeting of all the stakeholders including government, intellectuals, medical and financial experts.

(f) Providing Resources:​ Atleast Rs. 10-billion each should be immediately granted to each and every province, AJK and G-B for creation of medical facilities, ensuring availability of tests, all needed medical facilities for admission and treatment etc.

(g) Inter-Provincial Coordination: A meeting of all Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries, Home Ministers and Health Secretaries of each province, AJK and G-B be called to understand their difficulties and to share experiences, with an intent to develop a common strategy and to bring them on one page.  This is particularly essential to ensure provincial harmony, coordination and synergy while reducing space for any campaigns through Social Media or Electronic Media to cause otherwise.

(i) Media Management:​ The government must give a well-defined and national media action plan to minimize the scare and maximize the awareness of the public during the lock down to ensure that the public is kept fully informed. A centralized media centre should be created and the information to the public be supplied through this centre as national news with no breaking news for channel rating. The concerned departments should immediately ensure effective campaigns on Media to educate the masses for the preventive measures, awareness and reporting procedures in regards to Coronavirus.  Atleast two hours in each transmission should be dedicated to this purpose.  Unverified or Fake news should be prevented, graphic details, particularly of victims should be avoided, and statistics or updates should not in any case contradict or conflict with the National Focal person’s report.  Spreading fake-news or unverified contents regarding Coronavirus through social media should be made traceable and punishable.  PEMRA and all TV Channels should be duly taken on board in this context.

(j) Ministry of Health:​As the Ministry of Health, under the leadership of Dr. Zafar Mirza, is delivering effectively, there is need to strengthen him with more resources and free-hand to add to the impetus.

(k) Promulgation of Ordinance:​Ordinance to enforce these emergent measures may be promulgated immediately after necessary consensus and due-diligence.

(l)  Economic Measures:  We do not know as to how far and how long this bio-terrorism is going to play ping pong with the lies of the public and hence there is a dire need to bring in a legislation to regulate the funding so allocated for this pandemic and Indemnity of actions to crackdown and other measures taken in countering coronavirus in good faith.

(J)  Ban on Export of Medical Equipment: Special punishment for the violation government instructions pertaining to medical equipment / medicines or smuggling of any item required in the country for treatment of coronavirus patients.

(i)  Functionaries within the constituencies:  The Political leadership at all level should be restricted to remain in their constituencies to supervise and monitor the medical measures in the constituencies.

(J) Cabinet Office Meeting Room: A COBRA Room shall be established immediately with a special committee of the Prime Minister, Cabinet, legislators, former experienced politicians, medical experts, financial and security experts to monitor the pandemic in a fully protected conference room. The National Security division should also be declared as a member of the said COBRA Crisis management Centre.

We as nation has always adopted the “look busy do nothing” policy in such terrible situations and national mishaps as the only thing we do is to gather funds for such unexpected incidents which cripple our lives.

I wish the govt allocates and utilizes every sufficient funds to update heath systems and awareness programs.

We the political leaders make noise when emergency/destructive situation erupts. Has any political party came up with a law for the upgradation of health care system?  Because as we speak, we still use Panadol or Aspirin to treat ourselves whenever we feel sick.

If the respective govt had imported enough Ventilators, we would not be panicking today and begging for it from the other countries of the world.

Let us all now stand firm behind the govt to fight this new born bio-terrorism.

These are my own views and do not necessarily represent the views of my party.

(The writer is Former Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Chairman of Think Tank "Global Eye". He can be reached at: rmalik1212@gmail.com and Twitter @Senrehmanmalik)