The coronavirus pandemic has eroded people’s trust in ruling institutions and the governing elite, according to an analytical fact-finding study conducted by Pakistan’s independent human rights group. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called for parliamentary oversight for all decisions related to the Covid-19 pandemic that had killed more than 5,500 people in the country as of July 20. More than 265,000 people have tested positive for the disease in Pakistan and 1,552 remain in critical condition, according to official figures. The HRCP report includes a survey of a cross-section of citizens nationwide, of whom only 25 percent thought the steps taken by the federal government had been effective in tackling Covid-19. Around 94 percent felt that wage labor had been the most affected by the pandemic.
More than half were concerned that religious minorities would be discriminated against in the distribution of relief items or access to healthcare, while around 70 percent felt that women had become increasingly vulnerable to domestic violence. “The government’s overall response has been marred by inconsistent messaging at the top, which must be rectified by ensuring that the federal and provincial governments present a united front in this time of crisis,” the HRCP said. The commission also stressed that the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized must be at the center of all efforts related to pandemic prevention, containment and treatment, not only in this instance but as a matter of principle and policy in the long term. The health emergency has exacerbated structural discrimination and inequalities, and laid bare misplaced socioeconomic priorities, according to the HRCP. Any revival of economic activity will have to be done by generating demand and avoiding any downsizing. In addition, to make resources available for employment generation and wider, more effectual social protection, the government must realize the urgent need to cut back on redundant government divisions and departments and non-combat defense expenditure. “Adequate personal protective equipment must be made available to all frontline workers, including janitorial staff, at all levels. In the short term, the government must fill vacant positions in the provincial health service systems and arrange to use district hospitals for quarantine and isolation,” the report said. “Women’s health, employment, and domestic abuse are areas of special concern that need immediate attention. Governments and civil society must not lose sight of the vulnerability of religious minorities, persons living with disabilities, the elderly, and transgender persons, especially in terms of their access to healthcare and aid distribution. “The problems identified in access to online education and connectivity must be rectified at the earliest. Serious attention must also be paid to the state of Pakistan’s prisons, which are especially susceptible to infectious diseases. “This is a defining time for government at all levels. Their performance will be judged in relation to how they have handled this crisis, and there is much that can still be done to mitigate its effects.”
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