Cops infected by virus

THE police are, quite literally, on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus. Now the risks inherent in that role are becoming evident. It emerged on Monday that at least 15 policemen in Karachi, mainly constables or head constables, have tested positive for Covid-19. Of them, only one case was detected in March while the rest have been confirmed within the last 20 days. Tests carried out on the infected cops’ family members and colleagues indicate onward local transmission. Among 22 relatives of one of these policemen, eight have tested positive. A colleague of another infected cop has also come down with the virus. Results of further tests are awaited even as all the affected policemen have been sent to isolation wards in various city hospitals.

Law-enforcement officials are in an extraordinarily vulnerable situation, especially in our more chaotic urban centres, as they try to implement lockdown orders. They deal with the public directly, a public with whom they often have an adversarial relationship. Many citizens are resentful about their restricted mobility and that, coupled with the traditional — unfortunately, often valid — lack of trust in the police, makes for some fraught encounters. Law-enforcement officials also have to maintain order during ration distribution operations where large numbers of restless recipients are gathered. They are deputed at quarantine centres as well to prevent suspected coronavirus patients from leaving these sites. Moreover, a recent report in this paper found that thousands of cops had been deployed on lockdown duties in Karachi without training or adequate personal protection equipment. In Punjab as well, the provincial government had by the first week of April provided only 5pc of the PPEs that the police had requested. Cops also run a heightened risk of infection because they work in teams, travel together and often share utensils, while weapons change hands every time a new shift begins. Unless protective measures are stringently observed, there are multiple avenues for the virus to spread between colleagues — and beyond.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2020