Ten days’ blunder?

May 06, 2021

LAHORE: One must sympathise with the government that has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Spread of covid-19 demands isolating population but this would severely impact the...

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LAHORE: One must sympathise with the government that has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Spread of covid-19 demands isolating population but this would severely impact the ongoing economic recovery.

The question is whether to save lives or businesses? Would we be able to bear the damage a ten-day lockdown would cause to the economy? But then what is the use of some economic gain if the Covid-19 paralysed the lives of workers? Avoiding this coronavirus is still a better option than risking further spread of pandemic.

It has been found that corona-inflicted persons generally lose their strength to work as the disease emaciates them. Their ability to perform laborious jobs is compromised. If we let majority of our workers infected with Covid-19 we would see a steep fall in our productivity.

We should take cue from India where commoners are more severely hit by Covid-19 than the affluent class. They would face productivity problems in near future.

The argument in favour of opening markets and industries is that long closure would hurt millions of daily-wagers that depend on their daily incomes to feed their families. A ten day closure would mean certain level of starvation for them and their families.

On the other side if they continue to work and move about without observing standard operating procedures (SOPs) there is a likelihood that at least 10 percent of them would get infected (the average infection rate of Covid-19 is over 9 percent that is double in populated cities). The poor workers usually live in one-room rented facilities. One infected person in a poor family would also put the rest of the family at risk of getting infected. This is a risk that should be avoided. We have seen the Covid-19 rate has started declining though at a very slow pace.

Opening up of trade and industry would again trigger new wave that should be avoided at all costs. If even ten percent of the workforce is infected with this disease it would hugely impact the productivity and reduce the incomes of low productive workers sharply. Their families would not be able to survive.

It is true that our exports have bounced back in recent months. However we should analyse the sectors that have registered higher growth. In textiles the cotton fabric and cotton yarn were in the driving seat. Our valued-added exports registered subdued gains. We are exporting more low value-added textiles because the other economies are recovering and need these basic raw materials to compete with our apparel sector.

If the industry is closed for ten days the exports of yarn and fabric would suffer. That however would deny low-cost inputs for our competitors. The apparel orders would be diverted to Pakistan.

Our Basmati rice exports registered increase of 73 percent which is not surprising. The world is facing grain shortages. Our Basmati was a blessing for them.

We have no idea whether our government analysed the impact of this important food grain on our food security. Indian Basmati had edged Pakistani Basmati out of most markets but with food situation getting worse in India the exports of this staple food (many) has perhaps been officially curtailed.

Indians think much ahead of our planners. They have let the Basmati market slip to provide food security to their nation that is more important.

The government is short of funds and it is no position to provide monetary help to the citizens except the routine that is provided to poor families under the Ehsaas program. But a system has been installed that has assured at least food to all.

The system of providing two free meals a day by the state and numerous private sector enterprises has made most of the unemployed dependent on this dole-out and in normal times does not auger well for the productivity. However in critical times like the one we are going through this will be handy and save millions from hunger. Let us go ahead with ten days complete lock down in the larger interest of the nation. Economy could rebound when these threats are over. However if we destroyed our healthy human resource the bouncing back would be bumpy and long.

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