As this is not the time to play politics but to save our people, I consider it my utmost national obligation to write this open letter to all 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 stakeholders, worked day and night to brief the people and government. A polarised political system will further endanger the people.

I have been closely watching the behaviour 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 the status of bio-terrorism, which has set its own rules of action and 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 loved ones and friends. This is no more a simple health issue but a national security risk and can create numerous issues including direct effects on our vital national organs.

I sent 30 recommendations to the Ministry of Health and Interior on February 27, but no action was taken. The meeting on this date discussed the adverse effects in both our civilian and defence sectors, as we have integrated society and there are no visible red lines between civilians and the defence forces. I stated on the 27th that borders and airports must be screened out by the AMC as our civilian doctors and paramedical staff is not capable of handling this alien bio-terrorism.

I then appealed to the COAS and Prime Minister to engage AMC to assist civilians in testing and setting up of isolation centres. I thank the COAS for this initiative and it seems AMC is preparing to fight this bio-terrorism and I hope and pray that they are in a strong enough position to fight it with their professionalism and unmatched skills.

One of the first blunders was the government taking this lightly despite my timely advice. It did not raise the border force with fast orientation and briefing for handling incoming victims to Pakistan entering through frequented and in frequented routes. We did not even bother when it was declared a pandemic.

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 international standards or conventions in the pandemic situation is also falling quite short. Neither we have the resources nor have the will to transfer funds from other projects.

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

There are only 5 ventilators in whole Rawalpindi and Islamabad whereas there are only 1500 ventilators in the rest of the country. The government and the politicians need to be honest about whether the country can fight this ever-growing bio-terrorism with existing equipment. There is an acute shortage of testing kits, protective masks and coveralls for doctors and paramedical staff, etc. Ostensibly, doctors are compelled to make public statements expressing their incapacitation to address the issue in such circumstances.

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 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Not only they are exposed to the infection, but they also cannot perform to the desired levels.

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 public trust and faith in the departments as well as the government.

There is growing perception amongst the general public of being discriminated and being denied testing facilities on one pretext or the other. The expanding black-market, coercion by quacks, and proliferation of counterfeit testing kits and medicines is further aggravating the situation.

In view of the above observations I propose that that government may kindly take immediate actions by adopting following measures. The constitution of Pakistan provides equal opportunity for proper healthcare; hence the government should provide free of cost coronavirus testing to every citizen who feels vulnerable or needs tests. There is a perception amongst the public, particularly, those who have to use public transport for commuting, visit or work large infrastructures, 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.

All the hospitals associated with private medical colleges should be converted into quarantine centres, with colleges being made responsible to ensure minimum standards. Local doctors, and students, where appropriate, should be trained into emergency support. All wedding halls and marquees should be converted into quarantine centres, since they have adequate infrastructure and would need minimum structural changes.

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 paramedic losing his life in the line of service should be given a hero’s status and compensation package equivalent to the military’s be given to him.

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 at least the known incubation period of the Coronavirus, enabling in identifying and quarantining and treating the potential infected persons. There is a need to carry out appropriate isolation through simultaneous district-level lockdown, which, if need be, may be imposed through curfew or military deployment.

Through digital coordination, NADRA should continuously update health authorities and the national coronavirus monitoring centre, with geo-referencing of the patient and persons suspected to have been in contact with patient. Appropriate quarantining effort be carried out thereafter.

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

At least Rs10 billion should be immediately granted to each and every province, AJK and G-B for the creation of medical facilities, ensuring availability of tests, and providing all needed medical facilities for admission and treatment.

The government must give a well-defined and national media action plan to minimise the scare and maximise the awareness of the public during the lockdown to ensure that the public is kept fully informed. A centralised 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. Concerned departments should immediately ensure effective campaigns on media to educate the masses on preventive measures, awareness and reporting procedures in regards to coronavirus. At least 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.

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

An ordinance needed to enforce these emergent measures may be promulgated immediately after necessary consensus and due-diligence.

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.

The political leadership at all levels should be restricted to remain in their constituencies to supervise and monitor the medical measures in the constituencies.

As a nation, we have 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.

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

If the respective government had imported enough ventilators, we would not be panicking today or begging for them from other countries of the world.

Let us all now stand firm behind the government to fight this newborn bioterrorism.

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