Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan
Pakistani police officers stand guard at a checkpoint of a restricted area to help contain the spread of new coronavirus, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 June 2020

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan

Virus infects 97 politicians in Pakistan
  • Ruling PTI party is worst hit with two death and 36 testing positive for COVID-19

LAHORE: A total of 97 politicians, including 86 lawmakers from the country’s national and provincial assemblies, have tested positive for COVID-19 while six have died since the outbreak in Pakistan.

The members of the National Assembly (MNA) who have tested positive belong to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and several other political parties.

“Most of the MNAs who tested positive did not inform the secretariat,” Mehboob Gurmani, director-general media at the National Assembly (NA) Secretariat, told Arab News, explaining why the department did not have an official list of the infected legislators. “So we learned about them from the media.”

While some lawmakers were tested at a health facility in the parliament, others were tested privately, he said, adding that 40 staff members of the NA had also contracted the virus by June 12.

Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, who oversees the data for the coronavirus program, said that his department has yet to keep a count of politicians affected by the respiratory disease in the country.

Since February 26, when the first COVID-19 case was reported in Pakistan, the virus has become a significant threat to members of the ruling PTI party, with 36 leaders contracting the disease and two deaths reported, Information Secretary Omar Sarfaraz Cheema, said.

The second most-affected political faction is the PML-N with 23 lawmakers and office bearers affected, said Attaullah Tarar, general deputy secretary – who had tested positive for the disease and has since recovered.

The PML-N has also lost one of its lawmakers to the disease.

The PPP reported eight COVID-19 cases and has lost one parliamentarian, said Saeed Ghani, a senior party leader.

Ghani was the first lawmaker to announce he was going into self-quarantine after he posted a tweet on March 23.

Since then, several high-profile names have reportedly been infected, including Sheikh Rasheed, the federal minister for railways, Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition, Shehryar Khan Afridi, a state minister, Asad Qaiser, the NA speaker and two former prime ministers, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Sharif, who has served as Punjab chief minister many times in the past, wrote a series of tweets after contracting COVID-19, saying that he was being cautious, was staying at home and conducting meetings online.

He said that there had been “a couple of unavoidable outings recently like the appearance before NAB (National Accountability Bureau)” when the anti-corruption watchdog summoned him for questioning in a corruption case.

To date, the virus has claimed the lives of five provincial lawmakers: Syed Fazal Agha (Balochistan); Shaheena Raza (Punjab); Jamshed Uddin Kakakhel (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); Shaukat Manzoor Cheema (Punjab); and Ghulam Murtaza Baloch (Sindh), as confirmed by the respective party leaders.

Munir Orakzai, an MNA from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, died on June 2. He was thought to have recovered from the disease after contracting the virus in early April and was brought parliament in a wheelchair. His family said he had later died of a cardiac arrest, with his death confirmed by an adviser of prime minister, Shahbaz Gill, on Twitter.

In addition to the above numbers, 30 lawmakers and politicians from other political parties have also tested positive.

These include the religious-politico party Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F), and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM), Awani National Party (ANP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal (MMA), Awami Muslim League, Balochistan National Party (BNP), and independent legislators.

To stem the flow of new cases, the government has approved historical changes in the seating arrangements and voting processes in the lower and upper houses of parliament.

The new rules mandate that members follow social distancing and take other safety measures during sessions.

For the first time in the country’s history, the annual fiscal budget was presented on June 12 in a controlled environment with only 25 percent of lawmakers allowed to sit in the House.

Pakistan has a total of 1,195 members in its Senate, National Assembly and four provincial assemblies.

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