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March 15, 2020

Emergency

Opinion

March 15, 2020

Fact 1: Coronavirus cases “increase in exponential fashion”. On January 23, “China’s Hubei province had 444 confirmed cases. A week later, it had 4,903 cases. Another week later it had 22,112.” Initially, “Italy had 62 identified cases. It had 888 cases by the 29th of February, and 4,636 by the 6th of March.”

Fact 2: The only known measure against the coronavirus that has actually been effective so far is ‘extreme social distancing’. Churches are cancelling services. Purim celebrations at synagogues have been cancelled. Kuwait has asked Muslims to pray at home. Iran has halted Friday prayers in urban centres. According to Unesco, “39 countries in Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America have announced or implemented school and university closures (Unesco is providing immediate support to countries, including solutions for inclusive distance learning).”

Japan has closed all schools. Italy has closed all schools. France has closed nurseries and schools. Saudi Arabia has suspended travel of citizens of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the European Union, Switzerland, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

President Trump has suspended “all travel from Europe to [the] US.” Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have cancelled primary election-night rallies. The New York City St Patrick’s Day Parade “has been postponed for the first time in its 258-year history.”

Will the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the biggest global sporting event of the year go on as scheduled? The National Basketball Association (NBA; North America) has suspended the 2019-20 season. The BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament has been postponed. The New York Auto Show has been postponed.

The Barcelona Marathon has been postponed. Rugby Union’s Six Nations matches have been postponed. Formula One team members have been quarantined. Bahrain has decided to “hold this year’s Grand Prix as participants-only event.” Cricket in India will be played in empty stadiums.

In Rome, the Coliseum has been closed. Hong Kong’s Disneyland has been closed. The Disney theme parks in Japan have also been closed. In Paris, the Louvre has been shut. The Italian PM has “ordered people to stay at home.” Iran has “limited travel between major cities.” Apple, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft and Facebook have told employees to work from home.

The Bank of England has undertaken an emergency cut in interest rates as a counter-measure to the slowdown in the economy resulting from corona. The US Federal Reserve has cut rates. The Reserve Bank of Australia has cut rates. The SBP is yet to see any emergency.

Coronavirus cases increase exponentially. And the only effective measure is extreme social distancing. Iran, for the first time in 60 years, has asked the IMF for $5 billion to fight the virus.

Lo and behold, the Government of Pakistan just woke up last Friday. We have close links with China. We have an extremely weak health care system (Italy has run out of ventilators). We had time. Early detection is critical. We must have trained health workers – we didn’t. We must have trained laboratories across the country – we didn’t. We must have allocated Rs50 billion to fight the virus-we didn’t.

Let us do what we haven’t done. Money comes first. Do we have a disease surveillance and command centre? We are going to need a critical communication network. Learn from Singapore and Taiwan which have successfully fought the virus. Four things: One, rigorous detection and strict quarantine. Two, effective communication. Three, social distancing. Four, banning mass gatherings.” Hopefully, the seasonality factor will work in our favour.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh