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March 20, 2020

Why is PM avoiding lockdown?

Peshawar

March 20, 2020

Test of leadership always comes at difficult times and popular leaders take tough but right decisions. Only the time will tell whether Prime Minister Imran Khan's decision not to go for limited 'lockdown' of major cities or steps like that to prevent the spread of deadly coronavirus was right or it would cause more problems to the nation.

It was his first speech since the outbreak of 'coronavirus' in the Chinese city of Wuhan and later when the first case of the 'virus' was diagnosed in Pakistan on Feb 26th. But there was no substance or content in the speech on Tuesday. So has the State decided to abandon the people? It was surprising because when he himself warned the nation that, 'this virus will spread,' it should have been followed by steps and decisions taken by the government. Instead, he only appealed to the people to take good care of themselves. I wonder whether he realized the consequences of not going for partial or complete lockdown even for a week and then decide accordingly.

China went for 'lockdown' and is now getting good results while some other countries, which have delayed the decision, are now paying the price and their leaders facing criticism after hundreds of people died due to virus.

As the situation stands today, it looks as Sindh has taken the lead and is following the Chinese model while the Centre is following the policy of 'wait and see' as reflected from the weak speech of the PM. His defence against the 'lockdown' that it may result in people dying of hunger clearly showed that the State was not ready to take the responsibility whereas Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, has apparently done his homework and contacted a number of welfare organisations, which would look after these 'daily wagers.' The PM should have announced 'lockdown' of a few major cities, temporarily suspended international flights for two weeks, suspended intercity buses and railway services after two or three days time, ordered closure of all the big shopping malls across the country like the steps taken by the Sindh government; this would have given more confidence to the people. Although, Sindh may go for some more 'lockdown' even in cities like Sukkur or some other cities yet it took some measured steps and averted a panic. Karachi, being the largest city and thickly-populated, is vulnerable to such kind of 'virus.' Yes it may cost billions of rupees as businesses would come to a standstill but delay in taking the decision till the possible outbreak of virus could have caused almost double loss of life and business losses. 'Coronavirus' in Wuhan surprised China and initially they had no clue about its outbreak. But then they took the right decision and not only went for complete 'lockdown' but also took care of people at home. They are now getting positive results. In these difficult hours, one appreciates if the prime minister has praised the role of the Balochistan government and Pakistan Army but one was a bit surprised that he did not utter a word for the Sindh government and its Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, who otherwise received appreciation across the board for taking the lead and doing much more than many had expected from the government criticised in the past for its poor governance.

One wonders what lesson we have learnt from China if we are not considering steps like 'lockdown.' Situation may be under control at present though, we are still short of ventilators and places to quarantine people coming from Iran in particular but things are still manageable. But are we prepared for the worst? The answer is no. Mr prime minister, please don't wait to react but act first.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO