The pandemic crisis brought pain, grief, and a new way of living for citizens around the globe. As months went by and infection and fatalities rates kept on increasing, panic became the new normal just about everywhere. There being no reliable fast track solution to eradicate this crisis, governments began deciding on strategies and tactics to handle it. There were heads of governments who either attempted to trivialize the issue or responded in knee-jerk manner or endeavored to catch the bull by its horn or laid the foundation for practical short-term and long-term decisions to tackle the crisis.
As months went by, with ever-increasing infection rates and death statistics, the panic gained worldwide momentum and there was clamor all around demanding antidotes and assistance. Medical experts sounded the clarion call for effective vaccines to be urgently developed, widely distributed, and jabbing ensured.
While developed countries have the wherewithal to earmark financial resources, the less developed nations do not have such deep pockets. At the same time, there was a worldwide shortage for sanitizers, masks, PPEs, ventilators, and hospital beds. These too cost huge sums of money and countries who never thought of allocating funds for such emergencies were between the devil and the deep blue sea. Price gouging became the hallmark of PPE suppliers and hospitals.
This inhumane and heartless immorality devastated many families while the governments stood on the sidelines with eyes and ears closed.
The disastrous situation was further exacerbated by the overall confusion that led to total or smart lockdowns, closure of industries and places of business, massive unemployment that was further compounded by reverse migration by expatriates returning from developing countries who were working in labor-shortage countries, suspension of development projects, and mega shortfall in governmental revenue.
Most of the governments felt the heat of citizens and opposition political parties. The production of vaccines went at full at full speed and distributed and excess supply was donated or sold to other countries.
So what is the Pakistan story? After an indifferent, almost casual, initial response, the government woke up to the ground reality that the country is not an isolated island immune from this global virus.
The ensuing reaction was to take piecemeal decisions that manifested the lack of consensus and direction-less strategy. When the situation went haywire, the policymakers set up the National Command and Operation Center which, according to its website, is "the nerve center to synergize and articulate unified national effort against COVID-19, and to implement the decisions of National Coordination Committee on COVID-19. The center is one window operation to collate, analyze and process information based on digital input and human intelligence across Pakistan . . . ".
The no-nonsense functioning of NCOC has paid dividends through strict monitoring, through motivational messages, through focused coordination, through smart lockdowns in areas that have a high infection rate, and through a policy of step-wise vaccination program. The latest NCOC figures as of 03 June reveal that nearly one million confirmed cases reported with over 21,000 deaths. Nearly eight million doses have been administered while over two million citizens have been fully vaccinated.
In most of the countries, the virus and vaccine issue has also brought about naysayers, ill-informed citizens, people obsessed with a cavalier attitude, and conspiracy theorists. Pakistan is no exception. Take the social media scene. Innumerable videos and links to articles are posted daily, and widely disseminated, especially against vaccination and purported after-effects. The common accusation is that the vaccination is a component of the evil global strategy conjured up by an American tycoon to reduce world population, especially Africans, by three billion. Then there is a claim that those who get vaccinated would not be able to produce children. Then somebody came up with the notion that people who have been jabbed would die within two years (although this news turned out to be fake, the widespread forwarding of this news created a sense of fear in many hearts).
A large number of clergy from all faiths also demonstrated a hateful and malevolent opposition not only to the virus but more angrily against the process of vaccinations. In most of the cases, the prescribed SOPs were brazenly ignored and disregarded. Religious processions went on as usual with all rituals observed, places of worship were full with no social distancing, videos of religious personalities who propagated their own alternate remedies to eradicate this virus went viral, etc. As is normal among followers of nearly all religions, people tend to give more credence to what the clergy advises rather than the learned opinions and cautionary pronouncements of medical experts.
What about the politicians? The sad fact is that in Pakistan, anti-government personalities have exhibited a bizarre stance towards COVID-19. There seems to be no open support for the government in their scheme of things. They carp, criticize and complain when the government requests foreign countries to provide vaccines, ventilators, and funding to battle the virus. At times, they give the impression that the virus did not originate from Wuhan, China but was created in the prominent residence in Bani Gala, Islamabad.
There is no worthwhile appreciation for NCOC, there is no lobbying with diplomats and international agencies to provide vaccines and funds for social safety nets for the marginalized population who have been severely affected, there is no policy to motivate citizens to observe SOPS, to go for vaccination, and to comply with health and safety measures.
Probably they do not have the time or inclination to be in a positive mode because they are fully occupied in daily press conferences, meetings, and accusations. Isn't this the moment for them to offer the services of any politician who may have been Planning & Development Minister in past governments to be part of NCOC alongside the present minister? Does opposition for the sake of opposition precludes them to support the government in the larger interest of the population? They can respond if only they do some soul-searching. Benjamin Jowett, a tutor in Oxford in the 19th Century, said that "The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them".
The writer is president UN Global
Compact Network Pakistan