ISLAMABAD – Doctors and medical staff in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province stayed away from official duties for a second day Tuesday to protest a lack of protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients and demand permanent jobs.
Hundreds of young medics took to the streets Monday in the provincial capital, Quetta, despite a ban on such gatherings aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus in the province. Protesters said riot police used force to disperse the rally and briefly detained around 50 rally participants.
A provincial government spokesman said the doctors were freed the same day, but a majority have since refused to leave police stations until their demands are met. They also have called for legal action against officers who ordered the police crackdown.
Civilian and military officials confirmed Tuesday that a transport plane carrying personal protective equipment (PPE) for medics already had landed in Quetta and said more supplies were on the way.
Provincial Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan met with detained doctors in a police station Monday night after they were released from custody and told them the government was working to address their other demands.
“The PPE supplies are a global issue,” he said in a statement. Khan noted the provincial government had approved more than 1,400 posts this week to demonstrate its seriousness to fill vacant jobs.
He emphasized the hiring process, however, would be conducted strictly in accordance with regulations, and not under any pressure. The chief minister urged protesting doctors to return to their duties and help the government in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
The Pakistani military chief also assured doctors and medics across the country that arrangements were being made to ensure their safety and to enable them to effectively fight the pandemic.
“Doctors and paramedics are the frontline soldiers in this war,” an army statement quoted Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying.
“Pakistan government is striving hard to acquire and supply the required resources. In this hour of distress, we must remain patient and steadfast,” Bajwa said.
Pakistan, where authorities have imposed a partial lockdown, has recorded more than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 56 deaths as of Tuesday. The low numbers are attributed to an extremely small-scale testing of suspected cases.
The tally of coronavirus patients in Baluchistan stood at more than 200, mostly in Quetta.
Pakistani officials say a majority of the initial COVID-19 cases in the province and elsewhere in the country were Shi’ite Muslim nationals who recently returned from neighboring Iran after visiting religious shrines there.
Returnees from countries such as Britain, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Syria also brought the virus into the country, while the subsequent rapid growth in infections is attributed to local transmissions.
Iran has been one of the nation’s worst hit by the pandemic. Iranian officials reported the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to more than 62,000, and the number of deaths there now stands at about 3,900. (VoA)