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The new normal

Opinion

May 23, 2020

Notwithstanding the fact that in the absence of an appropriate vaccine, Covid-19 continues to spread its tentacles consuming human lives, most of the countries are reversing the lockdown strategies and allowing the reopening of their economies.

The obvious reason for this is the realization by even the richest countries that they cannot afford to shut their economies for an indefinite period fraught with serious economic and social consequences for their societies.

Prime Minister Imran Khan right from the beginning has been pointing out this reality and opposing a complete lockdown in the country, justifiably maintaining that with 25 percent people living below the poverty line and the economy in the doldrums it was not a feasible option to lockdown the country. Nevertheless, the government did not lag behind in evolving different strategies aimed at containment of the virus and providing relief to the affected segments of society.

The prime minister rightly felt that the challenge needed to be tackled collectively by the international community and that affluent nations must write off the loans of the poorer countries to provide them the fiscal space to defray the expenses on expansion in their health systems and keeping their economies running.

Addressing the online session of the World Economic Forum, he again urged developed countries to provide debt relief to poorer nations struggling to cope with the economic virus crisis. He said “The bigger challenge in our country is how to mitigate the effects of lockdown on our population with rising poverty. We have 25 million workers who either are daily wagers or get paid weekly or are self-employed. When we imposed lockdown like the whole of the world to stop the spread of the virus all these people became unemployed...”.

It is indeed hard to take issue with what he has been saying and has told the world through the World Economic Forum. A debate has been raging in our country on the adequacy, or otherwise, of the response strategy evolved by the government and those throwing flak at it have been stressing giving more attention to saving human lives than resurrection of the economy – enforcing a strict lockdown.

I think their motivation stemmed more from the propensity to have a dig at the government than evaluating the situation in view of the ground realities and social conditions. The realistic response was creating a balance between the two objectives and that is what the government has been trying to do.

No doubt saving human lives ought to be the top priority because they are priceless. But it also takes resources to accomplish that task. The question critics needed to ask themselves was: can Pakistan with its economy showing the lowest ever growth rate in the last 62 years and a big chunk of population languishing at below the poverty line afford a complete lockdown?

The government’s decision to ease the lockdown, despite rising cases of the coronavirus, is very much in conformity with the ground realities and the economic and social compulsions dictated by them. The WHO has warned that the people of the world may have to live with Covid-19 for a long time and find a ‘new normal’ way of living.

The prime minister stands vindicated regarding his realistic approach in dealing with the coronavirus and unfurling necessity-driven initiatives in that regard. He rightly feels that the way forward is to realize that we as a nation have to live with the virus at least until a vaccine comes out and balances it.

By opening up different sectors of the economy and allowing business activity to resume, the government has undoubtedly put its faith in the responsible behaviour of the people and observance of the SOPs as well as the given norms of social distancing. Much will now surely depend on the behaviour of the people in checking the spread of the virus while the government grapples with expansion in the health facilities and procurement of the equipment and medical supplies required to treat the virus affected persons. No policy of the government can produce the desired results without the cooperation and backing of the people.

But the dilemma is that the scenes in our markets and shopping areas do not present an encouraging spectacle. People are seen flouting the SOPs and social distancing, not realizing that this will not only imperil their own lives but also scuttle government efforts to effectively deal with the permeating situation. They need to show more discipline in their own and the country’s interest. They must remember that Unity, Faith and Discipline as enunciated by the Quaid is the only way forward.

The coronavirus is an unprecedented and most formidable challenge of the century. We need to take it with the seriousness that it demands.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]