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August 8, 2020

Reopening the country

Editorial

 
August 8, 2020

After a lockdown that began on March 15 and was on and off, then on and off again, the government has decided to reopen the country in order to allow business to function once more. This decision comes in the wake of a sharp drop in Covid-19 cases. While there are more than 20,000 active cases in the country only 1300 are currently being treated at hospitals and the major health disaster that had been feared has, at least for now, apparently been warded off through the efforts of the NCOC and the prime minister’s health team. The federal government has stated that restaurants, cafes, tourist spots, hotels, sports venues, recreational centers, transport and other facilities will reopen by August 10. Asad Umar who heads the NCOC has stated that relevant SOPs will be issued. In public transport a distance between passengers will be maintained, possibly till October and a final decision on the reopening of schools on September 15 will be taken after another meeting on September 7 to review the situation.

Of course, we are all glad to hear that further loss of jobs may be spared and desperate businesses, including those in the northern areas which essentially function for only three or four months in the year, may be able to earn at least some income. The rapid rate of unemployment is visible across the country. However, there is a reason for caution. Most countries in the world placed lockdowns suddenly and at short notice, but then reopened them step by step assessing the situation at every stage. Pakistan’s decision to go for a quick reopening of most facilities including marriage halls and ‘darbars’ could yet misfire. In Punjab there has been a marked rise in Covid-19 cases after Eidul Azha. The rate of cases being reported daily has risen to around 300 after falling to 100 or below that figure. Most of the cases come from Lahore and other congested cities. There is a warning in this. We need to be cautious in order to avoid the kind of second spike that is being experienced in many countries. Such a spike would put more people out of work and prolong the crisis.

It would also have been wise to prepare SOPs well in advance and perhaps share them with stakeholders ahead of the reopening. It is not known when these SOPs will reach business of various kinds. While Pakistan should be relieved that the Covid crisis did not hit it as badly as some other countries around the world and in the region, it is still too soon to celebrate. We need to convince people to strictly follow SOPs, continue using masks and maintain social distancing rules as far as is possible so that the virus cannot return and create further havoc.