Pakistan: Violent Mob Storms Hospital for Coronavirus Victim’s Body

Security personnel (C) and hospital staff wearing facemasks stand outside an hospital entrance in Karachi on February 17, 2020, after a gas leak killed five people and sickened dozens of others in a coastal residential area in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. (Photo by Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP) (Photo by RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images)
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images

Over 70 people violently stormed the Karachi Civil Hospital in Pakistan on Friday night after alleging that the hospital administration “delayed handing over the body” of a coronavirus victim to his family, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Saturday.

At least one doctor was injured in the attack after she was “slapped” by one of the victim’s relatives, with one hospital official describing the mob as “beating doctors” during the assault.

The mob vandalized the medical facility and “forcibly took away the body” of the victim. In videos taken of the mob at the hospital’s entrance, dozens of people are seen removing medical equipment, such as stretchers, from the facility and “breaking the sanitizer gate” at the entryway, Dawn reported.

A local journalist for Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune shared video footage of the mob attack, reporting that “the attackers had iron rods [and] knives” and shouted, “There is no corona[virus]. This is all a drama of doctors.”

Karachi police and hospital officials said that a male patient was brought to the hospital early Friday morning “complaining of a heart problem” and died while being treated, according to Dawn. Suspecting the patient had coronavirus, the doctors conducted a test, which came back positive. The man’s relatives refused to accept the test results, accusing the doctors of declaring him to be positive for coronavirus “even though he was normal.” They then claimed the hospital was purposefully delaying the release of the man’s body and mobbed the facility late Friday night to forcibly retrieve it.

Responding to allegations that the medical facility had delayed the release of the body, the hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr. Khadim Hussain Qureshi, told Dawn that doctors at Karachi Civic had followed the national government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling bodies of people who die from coronavirus.

“We are government servants. We only follow what the government tells us,” he said. “It takes time for the [coronavirus test] result to be received,” he added.

Qureshi expressed concern over the mob’s violent assault on doctors:

What kind of ethics are these? Doctors are already putting their lives in danger to save people; the public should support them. The way they have resorted to beating doctors … if doctors refuse to work, who will save [the people]?

A senior Karachi police official speaking to Dawn anonymously said that the hospital administration had not approached police to file a “first information report” (FIR), or the basic document to report a crime in Pakistan. He said that the police had decided to register a criminal case against the people involved in the attack over “charges of rioting and creating hindrances in official work.” Karachi police officials have also asked the hospital administration to supply CCTV footage of the incident so that authorities may identify and arrest suspects, according to the report.

On May 14, a similar attack occurred at a different Karachi hospital, with a mob of at least nine people vandalizing a hospital ward and forcibly retrieving the body of a coronavirus victim they believed to be withheld from family by hospital authorities. Police arrested at least nine people involved in the attack and said no one was injured during the incident.

Pakistan’s failing healthcare system struggled to treat citizens prior to the coronavirus pandemic due to the country’s poor infrastructure. Now, amid a recent increase in coronavirus cases and with the nation’s lockdown restrictions on peoples’ movement recently lifted, Pakistan’s hospitals are overwhelmed with the burden of treating a surging number of infections. National health authorities have warned they may be forced to reinstate a lockdown following the most recent spike in cases caused by the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday weekend at the end of May.

At press time on Monday, Pakistan had recorded 72,460 infections and 1,543 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus. However, a lack of medical supplies such as testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) coupled with a general reluctance to test properly by the national government means Pakistan has tested just a small fraction of the population. The true number of coronavirus cases is likely much higher than reported.

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