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March 31, 2020

Reign of Covid-19 scourge: Umpteen lessons learnt, unlearnt

National

March 31, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Lessons learnt, unlearnt are galore as Pakistan like the rest of the world wrestles with the insurmountable scourge of coronavirus.

To start with, a meaty WhatsApp message, shared by a dear relative as well as others about a few lessons learnt in the past few days: Majority of people can work from home; we and our kids can survive without junk food; prisoners in jails for petty crimes can be released; we can build hospitals within days; we can spend billions of rupees on the poor without red tape; we can survive vacations without trips to Europe and the United States; developed nations are as vulnerable as any poor countries, in fact more exposed; our family system is still intact; schools are overburdening our kids with bullshits; money is abundant if we use it wisely; we spend hell lot of petrol unnecessarily straining our economy; buying every new designer lawn is not important; and elders are the backbone of a family.

There are also a number of lessons that need to be learnt because of the chaotic situation spawned by the coronavirus pandemic: Always save for emergencies and calamities, natural and man-made; don’t be spendthrift; for nature all human beings are equal; excess of everything is bad — socialization, consumption, staff, social media; we can live without ostentatious weddings and elaborate post-death ceremonies.

Pandemic doesn’t discriminate on basis of rank, race, pay scale, social status, position or wealth; you must have few real good friends; world is a social village — in split second information coming from 200 plus countries; we are not capable of making decisions anchored in science and data but even at highest level depend on “gut feelings” and “personal experiences and likings”; doctors, nurses, courts, policemen, civil servants; and journalists, municipal staff can work in emergencies and natural calamities but not the parliamentarians;

Unlearnt lessons are not in short supply in Pakistan and around the globe. New York governor Andrew Mark Cuomo, belonging to the opposition Democratic Party, has publicly repeatedly bemoaned that his state has received “zero”, “zilch” from the federal Trump administration at this time of crisis. He keeps hammering the acute shortage of funds, ventilators and masks, and has ordered through an executive decree that no tenant would be evicted in next three months if he/she doesn’t pay rent. We are not different – the Sindh administration, which has performed well in grappling with the COVID-19, has often complained of little or no financial assistance from the federal government.

Our leaders presiding over the destiny of the nation at this frenzied interlude are still very much fixated on pursuing their politics, which in any case needs to be postponed to some other day to practice. It is but despicable to do politics at this critical juncture, and slurring, ridiculing opponents is more contemptuous and scornful.

A video conference of all top parliamentary leaders hosted by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar to ponder over the coronavirus situation was a good occasion to speak with one voice and evolve a national consensus.

But the opportunity was frittered away when Prime Minister Imran Khan logged out after finishing his speech, leaving leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal quickly walking out in protest. It is a sad state of affairs.

Another unlearnt lesson is our nonchalance about not having the local bodies in place, which, being the grassroots-level institutions, have the ability and capability to play a key role in the prevailing conditions. Having personal contacts in their small constituencies, councilors would have been very useful in tracking down coronavirus patients and waging awareness campaigns about the menace. Most of the time, governments have kept the local councils out of action for their petty political gains and even dismissed them when the elections for them had been held during the time of their rivals in power.

Yet another unlearnt lesson was that the government remained obsessed with running the health system without apex regulator – Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PM&DC) - leaving the doctors and medical institutions without any legal cover of having the mandatory regulatory organisation in place. The result was that with the PM&DC being dissolved and the new body declared null and void by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the fresh medical graduates were not able to practice their profession because they could not get themselves registered anywhere for the purpose.

Similarly, the degrees of the doctors being recruited now to tackle the COVID-19 situation could not be got verified from anywhere, which is a mandatory condition for such employment.

Finally, the IHC, holding hearing on a contempt plea in regard to non-implementation of its Feb 11, 2019 judgment, deeply annoyed and ordered the unsealing of the PM&DC offices forthwith. Non-compliance of the verdict is a slap on the face of the IHC, it remarked.

A WhatsApp message enumerated the things that COVID 19 made clear: The US is no longer the world's leading country; China won the 3rd world war without firing a missile and no one could handle it; prevention saves more lives than acting at the last moment; health professionals are worth more than a footballer; Europeans are not as educated as they appear; we are not mistaken when we ask for more hospitals and less wars; children occupy a privileged place in nature; oil is worthless in a society without consumption; death does not distinguish race, colour, social strata; human beings are opportunistic and despicable no matter their socioeconomic position when raising prices; toilet paper is more important than food; social networks bring us closer, but it is also the means to create panic; now we know how animals feel in zoos; today's children no longer know how to play without internet or TV; there are those who earn millions and do not serve humanity; a computer engineer is important as he already knows where the internet fell; healthcare workers are alone, abandoned and forgotten but they never give up; children are now educated as free thinkers by their parents; those who live day by day are disoriented; we started to appreciate the great gesture of trust that means shaking hands; humans are the real viruses on the planet; the planet regenerates quickly without humans; we are not prepared for a pandemic; politicians take the opportunity to pull the rug from the rival; and more should be invested in health rather than festivals.

There is a universal practice of emergency arrangements for natural calamities and man-made catastrophes. Countries maintain stockpiles of medicines, shelter, protective equipments, ventilators, food, clothing, fuel. We have established abundant institutions but none is equipped with the necessary wherewithal and we are always caught unawares.

Will our leaders change after seeing the homeland overwhelmed by the coronavirus like other countries of the world? There is a dim hope. Nothing will change. Some things never change. However, changes should be good, lasting.

An ultramicroscopic infectious agent has rubbed the nose of the mightiest of the world in the dirt and smashed their unbounded bloated arrogance.

Their systems have collapsed and they are as helpless as poor, undeveloped countries are. Will they learn a lesson? It is unexpected.

Quote of the day: “In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians”.

According to an article, “Quarantined at home and bored? Read our suggestions for entertainment”, carried by the Foreigner-FI, noted that on the bright side of things, we never seem to have enough time for the people or things we love, so this can be the perfect opportunity to spend more quality time with loved ones and catch up on multiple hobbies.

“These are scary and confusing times and if you are taking this pandemic seriously and your job allows you to work from home, you have been self-isolating for the past few days. Now, in other circumstances, having to stay at home when you were supposed to go to work or school may sound like a great unexpected vacation.

Until you realize that, except for grocery shopping or runs to the pharmacy, you cannot (or should not) leave the house until the government tells you it is safe.

Obviously this does not apply to health, supermarket, logistics or cleaning workers, who are essential to keep society running.

But for everyone that does not have to or can not go to work, for whatever reason, and have to stay at home, things can get boring, irritating or chaotic quick. . .”