PESHAWAR: The rallying cry urging us all to participate in social distancing to flatten the Covid-19 curve appears to be the only strategy that is effective in preventing the virus from spreading. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), a failure to implement the limited face-to-face contact strategy has resulted in a drastic increase in the number of cases in the province.
From the time the first Covid-19 case surfaced in Mardan, the province has recorded more than 60 deaths and more than 1,000 infected cases.
According to the provincial coronavirus centre’s report, which documents the spread of the disease, Peshawar recorded more than 230, Mardan more than 100, and Dera Ismail Khan more than 80 positive cases. Peshawar, the report declared, is the most affected by the super-spreader that has so far claimed more than 20 lives.
With the virus making gains, it appears that 31 locations in Peshawar are not struggling with the outbreak. In the suburbs, the virus seems to be making significant gains in Academy Town, Sufaid Dheri, Police Colony Nasir Bagh, Chamkani, Mathra, Urmar, Hayatabad, Tehkal Bala. However, more than 190 patients made a miraculous recovery during this time.
According to health experts, it appears the poor implementation of the physical distancing policy is allowing the virus to spread in and outside Peshawar. “People who strictly follow the tribal culture might not be taking the social distancing policy seriously,” said Kamran, a resident of the Chimkani area.
With business centres and other places closed, people, he said, continue to gather at hujras, space commonly used to entertain guests in Pashtun areas. Describing the assembly of people at hujras, Kamran said, people in rural parts of the province are accustomed to assemble at hujras. “You can expect 20-30 at a hujra for various reasons. Some come in for entertainment, others to meet and greet,” he said.
From the Duranpur area, which is on the outskirts of Peshawar, Sartaj Khan concurred with Kamran. A few days ago, Khan said, he lost a relative. “More than 500 people attended the funeral,” said Khan. And this, he said happened, during the second week of the lockdown.
Referring to the Pashtun culture, Khan said, the concept of social distancing clashes with commonly followed norms in this part of the country. “Coronavirus appears to be no reason for people to miss the funeral of a loved one here,” he quipped.
Defying the government’s orders to exercise social distancing, a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus was held in Yakatoot area last week. According to the details, 40 people assembled for the jirga.
In a stern warning, the provincial health minister said the cases would continue to rise if people ignore the social distancing orders. “Without precautions, the coronavirus can turn into a health catastrophe for the province,” cautioned Taimur Saleem Jhagra, who heads the health ministry in K-P.
After Karachi and Lahore, Jhagra said, Peshawar takes the spot for the highest number of Covid-19 cases. The lockdown, he said, was the only way to control the virus from spreading.
On the other hand, the trend of avoiding coronavirus tests appears to be equally alarming. A double whammy of avoiding tests and defying the government’s social distancing orders could result in a crippling health crisis, said one healthcare expert.
Interestingly, while the wheels of public transport are not rolling in the province, the provincial government has allowed rickshaws to transport the citizens. Health experts believe the move will result in more cases of coronavirus. As 80,000 rickshaws are allowed to move freely within the province, it appears the permission to allow the three-wheelers comes without any guidelines for the drivers and the riders.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2020.