KARACHI: As many as 114 beneficiaries of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme (EECP) have been tested in the last week, as authorities worried they had contracted the novel coronavirus.
With concerns that beneficiaries may have been infected while receiving cash disbursements from the EECP centres in mind, the Sindh health department has now introduced a fourth special category of coronavirus patients - those infected during the fund distribution. Previous categories had included pilgrims from Iran, members of the Tableeghi Jamaat and those who had come to the country from abroad.
The department's official records now mentions 'Ehsaas Programme' in the records of those who have been tested for the virus after visiting the EECP cash distribution counters that have been set up across the province.
Fears of the virus spreading in this manner were also heightened after an EECP staff member posted in Tando Allahyar tested positive for Covid-19. After this, the health department made the decision to trace all programme beneficiaries who had visited that particular centre.
The highest number of suspected patients was reported from Ghotki district, where at least 44 persons have been tested for Covid-19. In Hyderabad, 24 EECP beneficiaries have been tested so far, while the results of 17 suspected patients are pending in Thatta.
The samples of 30 such suspected patients were also taken in Sajawal district, of which health officials claimed that 15 had tested negative, while the results for the remaining beneficiaries were pending. They are expected to be reported today (Tuesday).
Crowds of people have thronged the various facilitation centres set up in different cities across the province, with members of the provincial government as well as civil society activists pointing out that there was a great risk of the virus spreading among them in the absence of social distancing measures.
In a tweet, writer Noorul Huda Shah criticised the distribution mechanism, claiming that the government was not only distributing cash among the poor people of Sindh but 'death' as well, in the form of the virus.
Reaching across the province
With almost 5,000 confirmed cases in Sindh by Monday, each of the province's 29 districts has reported positive cases, either surfacing in members of the Tableeghi Jamaat or in the residents through local transmission.
According to official figures, the highest number of coronavirus patients has emerged in Karachi's South district, with 945 cases. The city's East district has reported 775 cases, the Central district has 613 cases, while Sukkur district comes fourth with 411 confirmed cases.
Health department officials stated that the number of locally transmitted cases was on the rise in other parts of the province as well. "The virus is not limited to Karachi or Hyderabad. It has travelled to smaller towns and I fear it will reach the villages if appropriate measures are not taken to contain it," an official told The Express Tribune.
He said that the fear of the infection spreading in rural areas had increased after thousands of people, mostly women, came to the cities and urban centres to draw cash from the EECP. According to him, some people had contracted the virus in this process, adding, "We must trace them immediately or we will be in great trouble."
A senior health department official also told The Express Tribune, on condition of anonymity, that the cash distribution process had brought the virus to smaller towns and even provinces in Sindh. "We are conducting tests now, because we are concerned that infected people may have interacted with EECP beneficiaries," he explained.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2020.