More than 50 doctors protesting the lack of safety equipment as they battle the coronavirus were arrested Monday in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, police and physicians said.
The arrests occurred after more than 100 doctors and paramedics rallied near the city’s main hospital and then moved to protest in front of the chief minister’s residence, according to an AFP reporter.
Police later used batons to disperse the group after they tried to enter the chief minister’s home, resulting in scuffles between the sides.
“We have taken 53 doctors into custody for violating the law,” Abdul Razzaq Cheema, a senior police official told AFP after the incident.
Cheema said police held the doctors for several hours before the provincial government ordered them to release the group.
Liaqat Shehwani, a spokesman for the provincial Balochistan government, told AFP that the doctors were protesting over the unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and goggles.
“We had assured them that the PPE would be provided soon but they started the protest,” Shehwani said, adding that authorities were planning to distribute protective equipment after receiving supplies from the federal government earlier Monday.
Medical staff across Pakistan have complained for weeks over the severe shortages of safety equipment in hospitals as they treat patients suffering from the novel coronavirus.
Yasir Achakzai, president of the doctors association in Quetta, told reporters that the government was not following the World Health Organization’s guidelines for protecting doctors and other health workers.
“So they forced us to protest for our rights,” said Achakzai.
Pakistani has recorded 3,277 COVID-19 cases and 50 deaths caused by the virus, however, the true tally is thought to be many times larger as only limited testing is available in the impoverished country of 215 million.
Last month, both a doctor and nurse in Pakistan died after contracting the novel coronavirus, while at least two dozen other medical workers have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Frontline medical workers across the world have been grappling with short supplies of vital safety equipment as the pandemic spreads.