close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
May 11, 2020

Unity to contain pandemic

National

May 11, 2020

The ruling party leadership may be on the trajectory to squander another opportunity to forge national unity. It is undoubtedly earnestly required to formulate composite and collective national response to control COVID-19 pandemic and its unintended aftermaths those are not difficult to imagine. The visionary leadership turns adversary into opportunity but in this case the window of opportunity has been apparently slammed shut as the national unity continues to be a far-fetched cry. The extraordinary surge in the contagion during this month underscores the importance of an urgent collective response measuring up to the pandemic to contain the potential of double whammy, first lives and then economy. The leadership and all stakeholders may revisit the policy in the face of emerging grim situation. The policy of continuity of the restrictions may not embarrass the government leadership as it has clearly stated to re-impose the lockdown if the situation gets out of hand.

The collective response to the pandemic has become the rallying cry, because it knows no boundaries, even at the international and regional forums, UN, EU, Saarc, G20 etc. as its dire need is being felt to contain contagion’s devastating aftermaths analogous to unmitigated disasters. Ironically, the prime minister of Pakistan has not been seeing eye to eye about the unblemished wisdom. The perception of his upholding the cause of party politics over the national politics has been hanging in the air right across that needs to be rectified. For, nothing could be more hostile to the nation than playing politics during the pandemic that entails predictable catastrophic consequences posing credible existential threat. It is like the all -out war against the vicious and invisible enemy. It can only be won by the nation collectively. It is the abiding truth by any stretch of imagination. Regretfully, the mandarins though recognise its veracity in public but their omissions and commissions seemingly undercut and underrate its suitability with impunity.

It may be recalled that the opposition parties offered all out support to the government in its endeavors to control the deadly menace. Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, Shahbaz Sharif (PML-N) President and other leaders were equally forthcoming to formulate national response to the pandemic. But, sadly the good-intentioned gesture was not reciprocated. It was rather shrugged off by the leadership of the incumbent government with contempt if not with disdain. It was visible in its worst form when the prime minister left the All Parties Conference (APC) held in March this year after his speech. The (APC) was organised through video link to formulate national action plan on the analogy of the earlier National Action Plan (NAP-2015) to eradicate terrorism and extremism in the country. The APC under reference, however, failed to make any headway because the other national leaders felt humiliated and also left the conference in protest. The prime minister was required to provide leadership in such crisis situation to lift the morale of the people like a leader of substance. But his single dimensional conduct, to ‘get-it-alone approach, was starkly disproportionate even in the grave situation like the one created by the coronavirus. How ironic?

As it was not enough, the mixed messaging emanating from Islamabad also took its toll on the surge of the menace because of the PTI top leadership opposition to the timely lockdown in the country to contain the spread of the contagion. The sense was that hunger might kill more people than the COVID-19. The province of Sindh led by PPP Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah however, took the bold step and imposed stringent restrictions to control the spread of the virus. His bold initiative as leader was applauded by the media and the civil society right across when the federal government was in a state of ambivalence. It was inclined not to close down economy on the premise of prioritising the ‘livelihood over the lives’.

The other provinces also followed the suit without caring the reservations of federal government as the situation was getting from bad to worse with every passing day. There was no word of endorsement/appreciation by the federal government in favour of Sindh government’s timely initiatives. The prime minister should have patted at the back of Sind chief minister as one of his chief ministers had done very well notwithstanding he was leading the PPP government in one of the provinces of the federation. His words of encouragement would have raised his prestige and stature among the people of Pakistan. His withholding the due appreciation apparently strengthened the prevailing impression of his doing politics even during these telling times. Instead, the criticism of the Sindh government by the federal ministers was equating with attempts to undermine the Sindh government through the prism of petty politics. The initiatives of the Sindh governor to meet the clerics and other representatives of the civil society were seemingly based on his endeavour to register his presence and of the federal government at the altar of the provincial government. The raising of red hearings was obviously undertaken to divert the attention of the people from the good work of the provincial government.

The last week’s decision of the government of gradually lifting the restrictions of lockdown in its bid to strike a balance between saving the ‘lives and the livelihood’ may prove as a short term gains for long term pains. This prioritisation has been amply disapproved by the eminent experts and the WHO for being counterproductive in the final analysis. The restoration of complete lockdown may not seem out of place in the face of stunning rise of the cases of contagion and deaths during the second week of the May. The false sense of security rooted in comparison with the countries of other continents may lead to unforgiving prognosis.

The WHO and many reputable experts are of the view that the lockdown objectives must be realised first before contemplating to open the economy even selectively or incrementally. The policy decision of the government of Pakistan to open up the labour intensive sectors now when the cure of the pandemic is rising substantially and unabatedly sounds odd as it may surely ensue in far more cases of infection than estimated. The people are not likely to observe SOP as it is evident from the news coverage of both electronic and print media. The lifting of restrictions prematurely may not bring about the desired results as the curve is on the upward trajectory in perpetuity with no sign of its flattening in the near future. In fact, the number of cases of coronavirus patients has surged exponentially in the recent past and the trend is likely to continue in its full fury during the current month according to official estimation. The official balancing act between the ‘lives and livelihood’ therefore looks misplaced in terms of timing and of the ground realities. The unfolding of the heart-wrenching scenario of the pandemic may not be ruled out, God forbid.

It may be reminded that representative organisations of the country’s doctors had earlier strongly opposed the even partial lifting of the restrictions on the economy because of their fear that the number of the patients was likely to increase considerably during the coming days that may overwhelm the fragile health system of the country. The shortage of protective gears for the doctors and the paramedics has already taken the toll on the frontline medical professionals enough to sound the alarm bell of the unforgiving dangers if infection continues to spike.

The saving of the lives of the countrymen is far more important strategically than the economy that can be put back on track subsequently. The government may be in a better position after the international financial help to fight the pandemic in its all forms and manifestations by ensuring the provision of food to the marginalised people. The leadership of the country is therefore advised to change the policy in favour of saving the peoples’ lives to avert the existential threat. Stakes are very high those require matching attention with urgency. Ambivalence is anathema in this case. Please make no mistake.

The propensity of bringing change during the course of action is generally deemed dangerous approach to the very cause that is intended to be realised for good reasons. The cutting of losses both in ‘blood and treasure’ may be bordering the improbability if the policy decision of the government is devoid of clarity and subject to change half way through. It may be pointed out to substantiate the point that most of the Western countries had decided to ease the lockdown restrictions only after controlling the surge of the pandemic and also ensuring the continuous flattening of the curve of contagion. The cases of Italy, Spain and the UK and others amply repudiate the Pakistan government’s approach, with the exception of some states in the USA; to deal with the menace may be deemed as ill-conceived that may exacerbate the threat. The government leadership may therefore stick to the lockdown policy to the possible extent while taking all the stakeholders on board including the political leadership of all hues.

[email protected]