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Coronavirus: Should Court remain functional in Pakistan?

Judges, lawyers, courts’ staff and relatives of the parties appear before the courts on regular basis. If a single person is infect then the entire set-up can potentially be transmitted the virus. This is a dangerous situation. Should the court remain functional in Pakistan?

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Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed on Thursday chaired a meeting of National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) where it was decided against shutting countrywide courts despite rising number of coronavirus cases.

The meeting decided that the courts across the country would remain open and follow all standard operating procedures (SOPs) aimed at tackling the spread of virus. “We will not shatter the hopes of masses who look towards the judiciary for dispensing justice,” the meeting decided.

Since Coronavirus is spreading fast across the world, experts believe that the courts in Pakistan must have been shut-down for some time now. The gathering of more than five persons in any settings is not only dangerous for the participants rather it has also potential to infect a larger number of people if anyone of them has positive Coronavirus.

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Coronavirus appears to be single most terrifying challenge the world is deal with. According to latest media reports, more than 10,046 people have died and more than 245,805 have been infected by COVID-19 as the disease spreads rapidly to new territories. The epicenter of the outbreak has now shifted to Europe, which is recording a rapid rise in new cases every day.

Read more: Millions could die if coronavirus allowed to spread unchecked: UN chief

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pakistan has risen to 453 as of Friday after more cases were reported in Sindh.  The number of confirmed cases in Sindh rose to 245 in Sindh. In Punjab 78, Balochistan 81, and KPK 23 cases have been confirmed.

There is a discrepancy in the number of confirmed cases in Pakistan as the Live Dashboard managed by the National Institute Health is updated with a delay and provincial authorities are providing a different toll.

However, it said the chief justices of the high courts were authorized to take decisions on their own keeping in view the ground realities.

The apex court judge Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan was appointed as the focal person to coordinate with the lower courts keeping in view the developing situation. “The high courts will also appoint their focal persons,” the decision said adding that all high courts would be bound to follow the SOPs devised to deal with the virus.

Read more: What is the motive behind Modi’s $10m pledge against Coronavirus?

The chief justice said that they would adopt all measures to prevent judicial staff and applicants from coming into contact with the virus at the courts’ premises. “We have conveyed directives to high courts to avoid crowds during the proceedings,” he said.

The meeting also decided to conduct screening of relatives of inmates coming for court proceedings while directives were also issued to adopt preventive measures for inmates brought to the courts.

The meeting also decided to lower the burden of work as the courts have been directed to avoid issuing verdicts in the absence of one of the parties in a case. Moreover, a rotation policy should be adopted for the judicial staff of the lower judiciary.

Briefing the meeting over measures taken by the government to prevent virus outbreak, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that they would soon provide testing kits imported from abroad for screening at the courts.

“Free tests will be conducted at the government hospitals to screen virus,” he said adding that a hospital would also be designated in Chak Shahzad Islamabad to deal the suspected coronavirus patients.

Read more: China contained the coronavirus epidemic: reports ‘zero’ new cases

Interestingly, amidst fear and anguish, the scientists at National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Attaur Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB) have successfully established Molecular Diagnostic Assays for the detection of novel coronavirus, in collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Virology China, DZIF Germany, Columbia University USA and Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Rawalpindi. These testing kits will cost one-fourth the current price for the kits used for detecting the COVID-19.