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May 9, 2021

Affected by Covid differently, Pakistan and US responses still similar

Although there are differences in how Covid-19 has been affecting individuals and different segments of society in Pakistan and the US, experts have noticed some similarities in the way people in both countries have been responding to the pandemic.

They especially pointed out the reluctance to get vaccinated against the disease, the behaviours of religious groups and the role of the media during the pandemic being quite similar in both countries.

The experts told The News that vaccine hesitancy is quite common both in the US and in Pakistan, especially among conservatives in the US, republicans, different racial and ethnic groups, and those living in the Southern states of the country, despite the fact that vaccines are abundantly available and accessible to everyone, compared to a vast majority of people around the globe.

On the other hand, the situation is the same in Pakistan, where people from religious and conservative backgrounds are quite reluctant to get inoculated against Covid-19, while vaccine hesitancy is less common among people living in large cities and those belonging to educated backgrounds as compared to the rural population.

Talking about the impact of Covid-19 on people in the US, Prof James C Witte from the George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia state’s Fairfax County said that in order to understand the social and economic impacts of the pandemic on the people of the two countries, GMU and the University of Karachi (KU) had launched the Parallel Pandemic Project, which is an effort to document and understand when and how the paths of the US and Pakistan converge and diverge over the course of the pandemic.

“It is an attempt to achieve a more thorough understanding of crises responses across many social institutions through the lens of the response to Covid-19 in Pakistan and the United States,” said Prof Witte.

He said that the first phase of the project had been completed, while the second phase had begun in the fall of 2020 and was a more formal approach to assessing crisis response through multiple research proposals with faculty and students from both the institutions.

Prof Witte said experts and students from both countries discussed different themes related to the pandemic, including healthcare systems, economy, policy implementation, legislative responses, religion, family, educational system and media.

He said that in most of the cases, the response of the people, authorities and professionals was a lot similar, as it was the same virus that was affecting people of both countries and the rest of the world.

Commenting on the response of religious groups, he said Christian, Jewish and even Islamic groups in the US responded in three different ways, as one small group declared that there was no need to worry because God would protect its people, while there were some less conservative Christian and Jewish groups that continued their religious activities, and some of their religious congregations became superspreader events.

On the other hand, he added, there were some religious groups that responded responsibly, used technology and held their religious ceremonies and activities online to prevent their followers from contracting the disease.

When asked what was the response of the Muslim community in the US, Prof Witte said they behaved like other religious groups, with their educated class following the rules while those lacking information showing some reluctance in complying with the SOPs and getting vaccinated, but such a response was not unique to Muslims.

“Religion was not a dividing line in the US,” he observed, saying that Muslim physicians and healthcare workers responded very sensibly during the pandemic in the US.

As far as the media’s response was concerned, he said they behaved differently in both countries. He added that they were planning to launch a project to ascertain the impact of the media as well as word of mouth to assess their impact on the lives and behaviours of people, as a lot of misinformation and disinformation was spread during the pandemic through different means.

Prof Mustafa Hyder from KU’s Department of Public Administration said the Pakistani media played a positive role during the pandemic, broadcasting and printing only authentic information about testing, treatment and now about vaccination. He added that there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy among people in the rural areas and smaller towns of the country.

He said the media in both countries behaved in a similar manner, as some of the media outlets were highly pro-government in Pakistan while some were very critical. The situation was the same in the US, where media outlets behaved differently during the pandemic based on their own prejudices and policies, he added.

Commenting on government response to the pandemic, Prof Hyder said the situation in Pakistan was a bit chaotic due to differences of opinion between the federal and provincial governments, as one wanted to close down educational institutions while the others wanted to continue academic activities.

Both experts were of the opinion that their project provides an excellent opportunity to students, experts and faculties from the two reputed universities to understand each other and come up with some solutions and recommendations based on their respective experiences during the pandemic.