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Pakistan doctors arrested for protesting shortage of Covid-19 gear

Arrests in Balochistan province are an affront to the risks faced by health workers, says Amnesty International

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Pakistan doctors arrested for protesting shortage of Covid-19 gear

Doctors and paramedics in a police cell in Balochistan on April 6 after being arrested for a protest over a lack of personal protective equipment for health workers treating coronavirus patients. (Photo supplied)

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Dozens of health workers were rounded up in Pakistan’s impoverished Balochistan province for demanding immediate provision of personal protective equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The arrests on April 6 came after scores of doctors and paramedics tried to gather outside the state chief minister’s house in Quetta.

“Police have baton-charged and arrested at least 150 protesters,” Dr. Yasir Khan, president of the Young Doctors Association, told UCA News.

“We are the frontline workers against Covid-19. Many of our co-workers have contracted the disease due to the government’s failure to provide protective equipment.”

A Balochistan government spokesman defended the police action.

“Police had to act after doctors violated Section 144,” Liaquat Shahwani said. “Not only had they breached their code of conduct, they were also in violation of mandatory social distancing and the government’s ban on gatherings.”

The spokesman also said that the government had already provided medical kits to the health workers. “Some of the things [medical goggles] they demand are in short supply even in China,” he claimed.

More than 50,000 N-95 masks provided by the national disaster management authority have already been handed over to doctors.

As of April 6, Balochistan had recorded 192 coronavirus cases with one death. Three doctors are among the victims.

Amnesty International has called for the release of the detained doctors.

“Health workers in Pakistan are the heroes in the Covid-19 crisis. They must be provided with the protection and support they need. Their arrests in Balochistan today are an attack on their right to peaceful protest and an affront to the risks they face,” the organization said in a statement.

“They must be immediately released and the police must stop using excessive force.”

Father Noman Arif, priest of St James’ Parish in the Archdiocese of Karachi, expressed solidarity with the health workers.

“The health workers are our first line of defense against the novel coronavirus. The government should do everything in its power to meet the basic safety requirements,” Father Arif said.

“When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. The same should be the case with doctors and paramedics.”

Many took to social media to protest the police crackdown as #ProtestDoctorsOfBalochistan remained the top trend on Twitter in Pakistan for several hours.

“Unnecessary arrests will overburden the system by diverting the police required to perform other more important work; overcrowd lockups; expose both doctors and police to the infection; and waste other resources of the state and citizens,” human rights lawyer Asad Jamal tweeted.

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