For once-in-a-century phenomenon
Like everywhere else, it looks as of our leaders are without any ideas. While they realise the gravity of the situation, they do not know what to do except to pray and wait it out. Running down the clock might have been a good idea if it were any ordinary health emergency like the ones we had in the past, HIV in Sindh etc. There is no time frame for a virus such as Covid-19. The experts are of the view that an effective vaccine is at least 15 to 18 months away.
Pakistan is not benefitting from how other countries have tackled the outbreak. Italy where we have more deaths than China where it originated, and other European countries and also the US who took it lightly in the beginning are now finding it difficult and now the UK PM Boris Johnson has said that in a matter of 12 weeks they may be able to turn the tide on the disease. It is a lot of time considering how fast it could multiply. In the meanwhile everyone is thinking lockdown – partial or complete – as the ultimate solution to containing it. We have another example in South Korea where one positive case was responsible or further infecting over 1,200 people. China itself, where on Saturday there were only three coronavirus related deaths, put some 600 million people under lockdown.
In a country like Pakistan where we have three fatalities so far – two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one in Sindh – there are divided opinions on how to go about it. Sindh which not exactly ahead of the curve though, by and large looks to be ahead of other provinces and has enforced partial lock down in the province. On Thursday Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari supported his government’s policy of containment while assuring the people that those who will stand to lose their daily incomes will be reached out to by his government. He also urged the employers to ensure payment to the daily wagers who were likely to be affected by the lockdown. Bhutto hoped that the federal government would too adopt the strategy that has worked so far in the other world – ie of restricting people’s movement.
The prime minister’s speech on the other hand had no reference to it. He was of the view that a lockdown in country where between five to 10 million people were daily wagers, it would not be sustainable which it is not but the question is can we afford to let the same set of people be infected as this group is usually low on immunity and nutrition and live in conditions that cannot be termed hygienic with certainty.
If complete lockdown is no solution then the federal government must come up with an alternative plan where the state functions do not come to complete halt. The Digital Pakistan initiative needs to step up and be more imaginative than merely creating a platform where we could get latest and authentic statistics. The same function could well have been achieved by the health ministry website. Can they not think of automating some of the government functions and/or letting essential staff work whereas other could work online from home. And if this was not feasible now this could be one project the DP team should focus its energies towards once we have managed to work our out of this hole. We also need government to work an economic plan consisting of incentives for the businesses and relief for the poor. And for that to happen, we will surely need a lot more than mere support packages on offer by the lending institutions.