KARACHI: Doctors, nurses and paramedics at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) were forced to run for cover on Thursday night as attendants of a patient suspected of dying from complications caused by the coronavirus, stormed the COVID-19 ward of the hospital and vandalised property there, reported The News.
The grieving attendants broke the main gate of the ward and the windowpanes. They also damaged the hospital equipment and tried to take away the body of the deceased without completing the formalities.
“A group of some 50 to 60 people, who were reportedly the attendants of a patient who died during treatment, attacked the COVID-19 ward,” Dr Seemin Jamali, the executive director of the JPMC, told The News.
“They wrecked the ward and tried to take the body of the deceased away when they were informed that the body cannot be handed over to them due to the government’s instructions. All the staff and patients remained safe as they hid themselves inside the ward.”
JPMC officials said the staff on duty at the health facility’s Ward-23, which has been reserved for COVID-19 patients, and the patients who could walk tried to save themselves after several people barged in hurling abuses at the staff and trying to get a hold of the body, but they failed.
They said the attendants of the deceased were of the opinion that there exists no such thing as the coronavirus and that the patient had been afflicted with some non-communicable disease but the doctors and staff “killed the patient and declared him a coronavirus victim”. Rangers and police officials rushed to the facility and rounded up some eight to 10 people involved in the hooliganism at the COVID-19 ward, and took them to the Saddar police station.
The authorities said that more people involved in the attack were being identified with the help of the CCTV cameras, adding that such acts of terror were unacceptable.
“I was on duty at the ward when a group of people forcefully entered the ward and tried to take away the body of a deceased man, who was a resident of the Garden area,” said one of the doctors at the ward.
“When they were told that the body of the deceased would be handed over to the district administration, they started wrecking the place and tried to take away the body, but their attempt was foiled by the security staff.”
The doctor said the patient had been brought in with a “clinical picture of COVID-19” in a serious condition, and while he was being treated, his nasopharyngeal sample was sent to the laboratory to check if he was infected with the novel coronavirus, but he passed away.
“When the attendants learnt of the patient’s death, they gathered in front of the ward and started hooliganism. They were asked to wait but they barged into the ward and tried to take away the body,” said the doctor.
“When they were stopped by the staff for violating the standard operating procedures, they started rioting in the ward, causing fear and panic among the staff and patients.”
Other staff members on duty at the COVID-19 intensive care unit said they were forced to hide inside toilets and storerooms of the ward on the upper floors of the facility.
They said the enraged mob of attendants had barged into the ward and started throwing heavy objects at the staff on duty while they damaged most of the equipment on the ground floor of the facility.
“I was afraid of this situation for quite some time. People have been saying that there’s no such thing as the coronavirus and that it’s all a conspiracy,” said a female postgraduate doctor.
“We, the doctors and healthcare providers, are risking our lives while working with these infected patients, but we’re being accused of hatching conspiracies, which is not acceptable anymore.”
Dr Seemin said the issue of bodies of COVID-19 patients had become a nuisance for them because due to conspiracy theories, people had been blaming doctors and hospital staff for the delays and problems in getting custody of the bodies of their loved ones.
“We’ve been directed by the administration not to hand over the bodies of COVID-19 patients to their attendants. We’ve also been asked to wait for the test results of the patients who pass away during treatment before handing over their bodies to their families.”
Responding to a query, she said Rangers officials are deployed at the hospital’s emergency department, which is far from the COVID-19 treatment facility, adding that police officials are usually deployed outside the ward but they leave before sunset.