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March 26, 2020

Corona and our challenges

Opinion

March 26, 2020

Pakistan is under a lockdown – though only Sindh is calling it a ‘lockdown’. We delayed this because Pakistan’s federal government was not in favour of a lockdown when it was the only realistic option for us. The Sindh government imposed a lockdown for two weeks, starting March 23. Punjab and other provinces apart from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan announced it later.

Lockdown is an important step towards containing the coronavirus pandemic. In his address to the nation on March 22, Prime Minister Imran Khan said lockdown means a curfew – when it really does not. You can leave your house to buy groceries or go to pharmacies. The only reason for a lockdown is to keep the public safe by practising self-isolation. The premier must not confuse the public. We already believe in too many conspiracy theories to last us a lifetime (if corona doesn’t get us first, that is). We need more clarity. Even in his most recent interaction with journalists on March 24, PM was debating about curfews and lockdowns.

Appealing to the public to stay at home and be responsible was never going to work. It hasn’t worked in most countries. Self-isolation is something not many of us can relate to or even enjoy – unless you’re an introvert who doesn’t like socialising. Until the government enforces strict restrictions, which it has now to some extent, our people will not take the coronavirus seriously and will not self-isolate.

The medical aspect of dealing with the coronavirus is just one part of it. Managing people and controlling their activities is the other part. Even with limited resources, good planning can save many lives. It will not be an easy task. Instead of blaming past governments for not investing in healthcare, the PTI government should rise to the task. The PTI and many in the media have bashed the Sindh government for alleged corruption, poor governance and many other things but the Sindh government has taken the lead in our fight against corona because of quick decision-making process and better planning.

Like many other countries, the government of Pakistan is also worried about the economy. Pakistan’s economy is already struggling. Prime Minister Imran Khan says he is worried about the poor if a lockdown is imposed across the country. His concerns are not unfounded but there is another aspect to it. Can we really compare the cost of losing human lives with anything else? You cannot save the economy if you are burying hundreds of dead bodies every day. US President Donald Trump, British PM Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron failed to make tough decisions at the right time.

PM Khan is worried about daily wagers – and rightly so – but right now there is hardly any work for them and what will happen if daily wagers who do get some work get the coronavirus due to their exposure. What will happen to the families of the poor when this virus spreads? It’s a no-win situation but dilly-dallying will not help either.

PM Khan has announced an economic relief package due to the corona crisis, which is a good thing. Now PM Khan needs to lead from the front and build a national consensus. I still remember the 1992 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand when Pakistan was chasing a huge score. Skipper Khan came out to bat at number three, which was a statement that as the captain of the team, I will lead from the front. Granted that ruling a country is way different than leading an 11-men cricket team, we need the same kind of tough decisions from PM Khan now.

The world changed post 9-11 but the coronavirus will change the world in ways we have not witnessed in the 21st century. We are going to have to get used to many new things – from the concept of self-isolation to losing millions of people to a pandemic and a global economic recession we haven’t seen in decades. We will have to face challenges unheard of before. The political implications for rulers who fail their nations now will be grave. Italy’s tragic example is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

Statistics from around the world show that we are already late. This lockdown should have happened weeks ago. We also need to go on a testing spree. We need more kits. South Korea proved that massive testing can help save lives. We cannot afford to go down the Italian route. May God help us.

Bilal Akbar is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]