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June 2, 2020

Paradigm Shift

National

June 2, 2020

The review of the policy in piecemeal may not make qualitative difference in stemming the pandemic that has been on the rise in the recent past to the grotesque proportion. The ringing of the alarm bell should jolt the officials’ thinking for good to take measurable actions on urgent basis. Alternatively, be ready to face the worst case scenario.

The latest decision of the government to make the wearing of the mask by people obligatory at public places though necessary but seemingly is too little and too late. Hoping against hope, the National Coordination Committee(NCC) in its meeting of today may decide in favour of integrated approach to thwart the rot as the official policy in vogue has been piled under the heavy weight of ‘Diminishing Return’ with no hope of making turn around.

The policy planners of Pakistan seemingly have thrown the lives of the people and the economy into the jaws of COVID-19 hoping miracles against all odds. The endeavours to save the economy and the lives of the people from hunger simultaneously may fall in realm of improbability ending up both in short and long terms pains. It may be a prescription of double-jeopardy.

This strategy was vehemently and consistently maintained by the (WHO), experts in the fields and the representative organisations of doctors, as flawed fraught with immediate dangers for lives and to the economy in the final analysis. Their arguments had impeccable coherence in view of the exponential nature of COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of vaccine dedicated to incapacitate the virus.

The federal government did not pay required attention to the experts’ knowledge/scientific based opinion at the outset and indeed afterwards. It ironically decided to ease the restrictions equating with leaping in the dark to achieve unthinkable.

The veracity of the experts’ advocacy obviously stood vindicated as contagion had been spreading its tentacles exponentially in Pakistan right across especially after the Eid. The accumulative pitfalls are yet to come to light during the next two weeks. Unfortunately, the federal government indulged in stonewalling the experts’ persuasions and took the decision of opening the economy in its bid to save the poor people from starvation implying their lives might be taken care of by the ‘herd immunity’.

The underway virus rampage did not stir their cognitive process in favour of the paradigm shift. The coronavirus, however, continued to take heavy toll on public health.

Visibly upset on the undesirable aftermaths of government action plan to contain the contagion, the Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr. Mirza’s media statement had indeed blown the whistle by hurling the warning that the government would have to re-impose strict lockdown if people did not follow the SOP in its entirety. It was indeed a prelude to the inevitable when reviewed in the background of the surge in patients of infection after the recent religious festivity/congregations and the holy month. The infection touching the alarming figure of about 70K, with no sign of the trend receding, suggested quite clearly the indispensability of the different approach with strict enforcement of (SOP). It may be inferred that the government’s ‘off- and- on’ policy, embodied in lack of clarity, to control the pandemic has not brought about the desired results. Putting the blame on the people for the mandarins’ misadventure was unfair because that the ‘chips may fall where they may’. The government should have earlier known the response of the people with regard to the adherence of the (SOP) in the wake of apparent lack of political will. It was indeed impracticable after the government succumbed to the clerics’ demand of opening the mosques. The subsequent decision of the Supreme Court to open the Shopping Malls ensued in the dawn of “free for all”. People conveniently threw the so called (SOP) in the wind.

The flooded markets, religious congregations with thousands devotees in attendance, traffic jams, panic buying at shopping Malls etc. flouted the (SOP) without an iota of fear of health or legal consequences. The administrative and the judicial decisions regretfully led the people to believe that the threat level of the pandemic was not life threatening anymore. The inevitable is hardly surprising.

Now, it may look almost certain that the government is going to impose some stringent measures backed by the government’s strict instructions to the law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance of the (SOP). Sadly, the likely review of the policy is only taking place after causing double whammy-- surge in infection and the increased loss of lives. No one reportedly died due to hunger in this country. The country’s numerous hospitals reportedly refusing COVID-19 patients due to the already exhausted capacity of ICUs.

The fear of overwhelming of our fragile health system may be real if the immediate and emergent steps are not taken. The official assertion about the sufficient medical supplies in hospitals around the country is though reassuring but the alarming magnitude of the threat demands to continue to bolster the back-up supplies as lives are at stake.

It may be recalled, WHO has been consistently advising the national governments around the world not to ease the restrictions prematurely. The WHO advisory is seemingly based on two bases. Firstly, the easing of some restrictions should not be contemplated at all till the flattening and lowering of the curve of pandemic in perpetuity. Secondly, the apprehension of the second wave of the contagion also warrants of not lowering of the guards. In Pakistan, the government opened the economy to the utter apathy of the WHO’s advisory and of the medical experts. Now, the writing of the wall has become luminous and hence the official’s expression of somewhat desperation to review the policy.

Review of policy may be undertaken without carrying in mind the fear of faux pas. The likely embarrassment may not hold the government hostage not to take the right decision that is the dire need of the hour. The holding of the people solely responsible for strict restrictions is seemingly unfair administratively and therefore onus of responsibility quite rightly falls at the official shoulders. The policy has been exposed to the core as it has proved an aborted attempt to save the lives of the people not to speak of the controlling the disease that has rather tightened the straightjacket with all its ferocity.

It seems that the government had earlier inadvertently put the lives of the people of at risk in its attempt of saving the same from hunger and starvation. But the apprehension of unfolding of the hell with good intentions may be foregone conclusion, God forbid! This strategy is shockingly in contrast to the successful modus operandi adopted by the myriad countries in controlling the spread of the disease. For, they only considered of the easing of the restrictions of lockdown after registering continuous flattening of the curve leading to the unabated and substantial dropping of the infected cases and the resultant deaths.

China, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany and others are the shining examples of success stories. These countries may surely end up of both saving the lives and the economies because of the availability of the subsequent ample opportunities to put the economy back on track by leveraging the healthy people in a healthy environment. Lives once lost are lost forever. Simple common sense: economies are dependent on people, and economy’s supplementary role is important but not emphatically exclusive. Prioritisation of people may be the sole criterion to be followed by policy makers. The allowance of ‘balancing act’ may be misplaced when existential threat is looming larger with unforgiving predictable consequences to ‘self-preservation’.

The incumbent government of Pakistan thought otherwise. It decided to open up the economy when the peak of the infection was yet to unfold. Putting the lives of the people at risk may be avoided for being reflective of ghastly myopic thinking. The government leadership regretfully stood its ground by projecting that keeping the economy shut would cause more deaths due to hunger than the pandemic and therefore striking the balance was the only way forward. This strategy might have degree of relevance to our environment of acute poverty but the prevalent formidable existential threat’s compelling reasons might not subscribe it.

The real danger was the failure of the government action plan that might not end up in losing the both -- lives and livelihood. One hopes and prays that the official approach may not accrue the prohibitive consequences. Our health infrastructure may not be allowed to overwhelm as its threshold has been drawing closer with every passing day. Sadly, the prognoses are not looking good. The government is apparently confronted with the situation allegorical to the deep sea and the rock. However, the visionary and courageous leadership turns the adversary into opportunity. The incumbent government leadership may prove worthy of the genuine leadership. So far, it has not been successful in proving its mettle to the liking of the common people.

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