“We will again see what the issue is, and if they [quarantined pilgrims] need further treatment, they will be shifted to DHQ or city hospital, but if they can be treated here, we will provide treatment to them here.”
These were the last words of young doctor Usama Riaz, heard in a video recorded at a quarantine centre at Sakwar, Gilgit – where he ultimately ended up contracting the novel coronavirus while checking pilgrims returning from Iran and Iraq.
“Usama was continuously on duty and unfortunately was without proper protective gear necessary to handle coronavirus patient,” said a doctor referring to his video in which Riaz is seen wearing an ordinary mask. The video went viral on social media attracting sympathies for the young doctor.
According to relatives, Riaz returned home on Friday night from duty and went to bed. “But he couldn’t wake up next morning,” said the relative, adding he was rushed to combined military hospital (CMH) and then the district headquarter (DHQ) hospital where a CT scan machine was found to be out of order. The relatives appealed for airlifting him to Islamabad for treatment but that did not materialize either.
The 26-years-old Riaz, who was a resident of Chilas town, was then put on a ventilator at DHQ Gilgit, where he remained for the next three days before passing away on Sunday.
“It’s a national tragedy and we will award him the status of national hero,” Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman told The Express Tribune.
“He was our frontline defence and we honour his sacrifice.”
Riaz’s death brings the tally of fatalities to five in Pakistan. The country has so far above 800 known cases of the virus. Sindh has reported the highest number of cases.
Mehtabur Rehman, a local journalist, who visited the quarantine centre said, “I visited the centre where Usama was deputed and found the situation deplorable”.
“As far as protective gear, there was no such thing on the ground,” said the journalist who was later put on quarantine on ‘suspicion’ of visiting the centre without following the standard operating procedures. Rehman termed the quarantine as a vendetta for exposing the government’s false claims.
The Pakistan Medical Association of Gilgit-Baltistan (PMA G-B) reacted to Riaz’s death and accused the government of showing negligence towards genuine issues of the doctors.
“Dr Riaz had contracted COVID-19 due to the negligence of government and its health department,” said President PMA G-B Dr Zulfiqar Ali while addressing a press conference in Gilgit.