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March 25, 2020

What lies ahead

Editorial

 
March 25, 2020

Within hours of the prime minister’s declaration that there would be no lockdown, almost the entire country has announced what is being called a lockdown in Sindh, a non-lockdown lockdown in Punjab and a shutdown in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The fact though is that a lockdown, very similar to the one imposed by Italy too late after it was hit by Covid-19, is in place all over the country. Our lives have changed dramatically. We do not know for how long or with what degree of success. But at the present time this seems to be the only way to ward off the corona threat with over 900 cases already reported in the country. It is also true that this lockdown should have come much earlier on. There is a very real possibility that there are hundreds more, with only a small number of persons having been tested and the testing being focused on those who have traveled into the country from overseas. We do however know, from the case of Sindh Minister Saeed Ghani that there is definitely local spread, with Ghani having acquired the virus from an unknown source. Anecdotal reports are also coming in of cases in various parts of the country with people showing serious corona symptoms and attempting to seek medical help in a situation where there are too few testing kits and too many doctors without protective gear.

Most of Pakistan has now joined the 1.7 billion people around the world who are under lockdown. The virus has spread to 195 countries. The question for us is how we are to manage. The economic plan promised by the federal government for daily wagers, labourers and many others who must go out of their homes if they are to earn must be implemented. Even once this is done, resources are limited and philanthropy will not last forever. Something concrete has to be designed, such as initiatives which allow work from home: in manufacturing masks or other basic protective gear, mixing together simple sanitisers and so on. The economy will now be driven largely by the coronavirus.

It is also obvious that the police are unclear on how to manage the problem. There have been videos of the police beating or punishing people for being on the streets. Yet the instructions on this matter are unclear. Different rules apply virtually on every street. The chaos has to be controlled. We also need to think about whether a prolonged lockdown is even feasible in katchi abadis where up to six people inhabit a single room. In such conditions, how will they survive? What plans are in place to provide them basic rations if earners cannot go out to work. What about those such as domestic help, provided by agencies or employed by individual households, who have been laid off? The problems are many. At the same time, while awareness about the virus is growing, there are still pockets of complete ignorance. The Tableeghi Jamaat insists that as Muslims it cannot be affected no matter how many hugs are exchanged and it has continued its gatherings. Such madness has to be stopped. It will take time to work out rules for a situation which is almost unprecedented anywhere in the world. The federal and provincial governments must work together for this and consider what the future is to hold for all of us, even as we hope and pray that an effective plan will be developed without too long a delay.