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March 26, 2020

How Pakistan can fight coronavirus?


March 26, 2020

As the figure of coronavirus patients has touched 1,000 since the first case hit Pakistan a month back on February 26th, it is important to analyze our response to the pandemic both, at the leadership level and as a nation. No one knows how long it will last but everyone is now convinced that precaution and lockdown are the only ways to prevent the virus from spreading at a very fast pace.

Things are still under control as only seven deaths had been reported in 30 days but the ratio of rise in patients from one on Feb 26th to 1,000 on March 26th, should be a sign of worry for us. Had we taken some 'tough' decisions a bit earlier, the situation could have been even better what it is today. Now, it all depends how the Captain of the team i.e. Prime Minister Imran Khan plays.

Coronavirus has changed the world, culture, lifestyle and behaviour, from handshake to handwash. It is time that we should also change our political culture as well.

The captain on Tuesday announced a fairly reasonable 'relief package,' which under the circumstances, if implemented in a transparent way, would certainly provide some relief to the poor, labourers and needy people. His handling of journalists in such a situation where his government is facing criticism over delay in lockdown was impressive tough he avoided answers on the questions about his policy towards the media but promised to discuss it soon.

I believe that the PM should have invited the four chief ministers in the press conference. In our case it would have been better had we closed all our borders and expanded the first decision of asking those Pakistanis who wanted to come home from Wuhan to stay back and stopped all international flights for sometime as a precautionary measure. The decision was delayed.

Today, the country is in lockdown as far as urban cities are concerned and those who in the past have experienced 'curfew', it is a curfew like situation.

Second, the decision not to close the border particularly after the virus hit Iran's city of Qom, turned out to be a fatal decision as the virus entered Pakistan via Taftan, where poor arrangements further aggravated the situation.

Third, there is also a controversy as to when the first case was tested positive. On record, it was declared for the first time in Karachi of Mr Jaffery but some sources said that the first man was tested positive in Islamabad but it was withheld.

Fourth, Sindh surprised many including some of its worst critics and the government led by its Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah emerged as the leader in handling an impossible situation through preemptive, preventive and precautionary measures. Each of its decisions in the last one month have been followed, not only by the other provinces but also by the Centre. Sindh had proposed steps like suspension of flights, intra city transport and railway and 'partial or complete lockdown' much before it were followed. Decision to lockdown Karachi was tough, not only because it is the country's economic hub but also the port city. But it was the right decision. Ever since the lockdown, Karachi's environment has improved and street crime has come to zero, which in itself raised some other questions.

Besides, the role of Prime Minister's Adviser on Health, Dr. Zafar Mirza, was outstanding, starting from his decision on Pakistanis stuck in Wuhan.

Fifth, the army has now been called under Article 245 in aid of civil power to ensure proper enforcement of 'lockdown,' and National Disaster Management Authority, NDMA, has now taken over the lead role in providing required medical facilities.

Sixth, the nation's response is not upto the mark and there is a reason to believe that because of confusion and lack of understanding of the danger of the virus, even the educated class took it non-seriously before the number of patients started rising.

Seventh, social welfare organisations played a positive role and they should be supported.

Eighth, the role of political and religious parties across the board also needed to be appreciated.

Finally, the post virus scenario would also have far-reaching consequences on our economy for which the country needs a national consensus and the Centre should take the lead.

One can only hope it will die down by end of April or May but we must be prepared for the worst instead of waiting it to come.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO