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March 28, 2020

Belated response to COVID-19 costing Pakistan, several countries heavily

March 28, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, of course with the exception of the Sindh province, figures prominently among several countries of the world including the highly developed and affluent nations that gave a very slow, delayed response to coronavirus and are now severely suffering.

In late February when the alarm bells have been rung in different countries, which were also earlier taking the epidemic lightly, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza declared that Pakistan was coronavirus-free. This bespoke the level of realisation, acknowledgment and preparedness to face an imminent paralysing crisis.

At the precise time, he was making this statement, Pakistan opened its border with Iran to receive pilgrims, who had gone to the neighbouring country sometime back. The returnees were the first ones, who brought COVID-19 to Pakistan as before that the virus had not reached here. By that time, Iran had been severely hit by the coronavirus and was showing helplessness and vulnerability to cope with it.

As Sindh began getting caravans of pilgrims, infected with the virus, the federal government and other provinces adopted a laid-back approach doing nothing worthwhile to take care of the emerging crisis when it will reach their own doorsteps. Subsequently, worthless discussion persisted whether or not to ask people to sit home or to lock down the country. However, the Sindh government ably handled the chaotic situation with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on the forefront in every respect. The result is before everybody. The lockdown of the rest of Pakistan was enforced very belatedly. Overall preparations have been extremely patchy, tardy, which are impacting those affected.

It is anybody’s guess where the pandemic will lead Pakistan to and till that time how many lives will be lost. Resource constraint is indeed a problem but the incompetence and lack of swift decision-making has been much more pronounced.

The despicable side is that the government and opposition are not on the same page even in grappling with this dangerous situation. If politics had not been kept supreme, Prime Minister Imran Khan would not have logged out of a rare video conference attended by the parliamentary leaders.

After the uncontrollable COVID-19 has overwhelmed the world and choked its medical system, Pakistan and many countries are now running for life to minimise the human losses. Where political governments are in place, they are struggling to fend off any colossal damage to them. Unfortunately, they comprehended the magnitude of the disaster too late.

However, the story of initial pathetic reaction started from China in December last year when Dr Li Wenliang tried to caution about the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, he had sent a message to fellow medics warning of a virus he thought looked like SARS - another deadly coronavirus. But he was told by police to stop making false comments and was investigated for spreading rumours. The doctor died in February after contracting the virus while treating patients in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province of China, the first epicenter of COVID-19.

However, China took a few weeks to apprehend that the pandemic is too grave to be ignored, and in late January it barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan and expanded the order to most of the province in the days that followed. An unprecedented emergency was declared and within weeks China showed to the world its power how to successfully wrestle with the biggest challenge. Over past some weeks, it is helping not only Pakistan but also different nations by supplying direly needed ventilators, N95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Only a country like China can lift itself up in such a short span of time, demonstrating to all and sundry that it has the depth, capacity and determination to surmount any predicament.

The response of the solitary global power of the world, the US, to the pandemic has been no different from that of Pakistan to begin with. But as the virus spread very fast, the Trump administration started taking steps but slowly. The governor of New York state, which is the new epicenter of virus, has taken the lead in the fight against COVID-19 as the area in his jurisdiction has been severely hit as it has more than half of the total US cases. He too has been complaining about acute shortage of ventilators and facemasks and absence of the federal assistance and timely steps.

It has been reported that President Trump ignored warnings from intelligence agencies in January when the coronavirus started spreading in China. The US media has listed several instances of poor response of the American federal government.

"Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn't get him to do anything about it," a US official familiar with the intelligence agencies reports said. "The system was blinking red."

If a US-based friend, who spoke to this correspondent, is to be believed, the situation in America is worse in some respects. “We have stopped asking the stores to provide sanitizers and facemasks because no such material is available in any quantity. If we have to buy essential items of daily use, we have to queue up before the stores early in the morning otherwise we will not get anything,” he lamented.

In this sorry saga, the response of Italy was also exceptionally dismal, and resultantly, its death toll has even surpassed China in a short span of time. Not only its government but also its citizens took the gravity of the pandemic very lightly. The picture emerging from Italy shows that it is far away from controlling the COVID-19.

The conditions in Spain are also very alarming. The situation in Iran is too scary. Their governments lack the capacity and capability to tackle the scourge, leading to several deaths. France too lags behind.

When the COVID-19 has already taken a heavy toll across the globe and the casualty continues unabated, leaders of the Group of 20 major economies have now pledged to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”