All NADRA offices were closed on March 20th due to the outbreak of Coronavirus in Pakistan. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered offices in cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to be reopened after the PM’s aide on poverty alleviation, Dr Sania Nishtar, had said that the coronavirus relief operation was being affected due to the closure of NADRA offices. Therefore, the NADRA offices were opened up on the 4th of May.
However, the only thing that came to light was that our country, and it’s people, are not at all ready for the lockdown to be lifted. Concepts of social distancing went out the window as can be seen by the crowd of people gathered outside the NADRA offices. No distance between people. No masks. No gloves.
Most of the people who visited these offices were the recipients of the Ehsaas Cash Programme that is put forward to support and feed millions of poor families in our country as they struggle with lost jobs and no source of income due to the lockdown. Due to several glitches in the process, they were at NADRA to get issues regarding their fingerprints and national identity cards resolved so that they could receive the Rs12,000 in cash through the programme.
And while we sympathise with them, the people failed to comply with rules of social distancing while waiting outside the offices. According to witnesses, as well as those pictures that came to light on Twitter, one can clearly see that they did not wear gloves or masks and stood very close to each other – so alarmingly close that we can expect the number of Coronavirus cases to truly take a jump.
Is this due to lack of proper procedure on part of the government?
No. The authority has drawn circles outside its offices to help the public with distancing, but no one adhered to them. According to the NADRA’s spokesperson, people had been strictly told to call the authority helpline, 7000, get an appointment and then visit the centres. “Most people here have turned up without doing that,” he said.
On the inside, however, NADRA employees are following strict COVID-19 SOPs issued to it by the Ministry of Information. Visitors are being disinfected with sprays, screened for fever and provided hand sanitiser at the entrance to its offices.
“It was important to reopen the offices for the biometric verification of people registered under the Ehsaas Programme,” said Sindh NADRA Director-General Mir Ajam Khan. We have ensured that all safety measures against the novel coronavirus are implemented at the offices, he said, adding that help from the police and Rangers has also been sought to manage the crowds visiting the offices.
And while we might be one step closer to managing the crowds in public spaces, it only goes to show that the country is NOT ready for the lockdown to be lifted.