As the government is moving from lockdown to easing restrictions on businesses and allowing some normalcy, we must remember, Pakistan is not out of the wood at all. The clichéd flattening-of the curve-moment has not arrived yet. The number of Covid-19 patients is rising and so is the daily death toll.
The rising threat from Covid-19, demands some lessons to be learned before we open more opportunities for clusters of crowds by easing restrictions.
Government to keep the public aware of Covid-19 threat
The seriousness of the Covid-19 is still lost on people and businesses. The gradual decline in observing precautions like applying sanitisers and wearing masks has become more pronounced. Social distancing measures are not being taken seriously. It shows in part people are still not explained well — and that’s in Sindh, which moved to a lockdown early, and other parts of the country.
The mixed messages heard by the public — who mostly tune out the news now — are going to make the situation much worse than it needs to be. But that’s why governments need to explain in a clear and frank way what is at stake. It’s not like people in Germany or Canada are happy with the lockdowns. And they are taking care of the poor, while businesses are shut down — to save lives.
Massive testing as a way forward; Europe’s response to be studied
The other Covid-19 lesson — which East Asian states are all too aware of — is that there is always a second wave. Even if we hit it, one temporary plateau does not mean the end is near —this is the mistake the Federal government appears to be making now, thinking that it can, without massive testing, start to enforce more targeted lockdowns.
Pakistan hasn’t tested as much as Turkey, let alone Canada, nor did they do what Vietnam and New Zealand did to stop it early on. We remember the lessons of 1918, of SARS, of H1N1. We need decision-makers who are professional epidemiologists, not business owners with a conflict of interest.
There is a massive difference between what the UK has done versus Germany or Ireland. It was displayed when a fascinating comparison of different European states was released a few weeks ago. Leadership and a commitment to evidence-based decision-making makes a huge difference — Angela Merkel is a scientist by training and it shows in her briefings.
One of the big Covid-19 lessons learned from this is the importance of looking at sub-regions. A review of data suggests that, while the UK as a whole handled Covid-19 very badly early on, the severity of the spread varied. Scotland was different from England, and within England, the southwest (so, Devon & Cornwall) were not as bad, especially compared to London. Big cities appear to be a huge challenge so Pakistan needs to closely watch how this virus quickly spreads once the lockdown is eased in megacities and sub-regions.
Clergy: Covid-19 not a serious issue
Another lesson to be learned from Covid-19 is that if mosques in other countries are fine with serious restrictions to save the lives of their community, what is making Pakistan so different from other places? After having witnessed the Covid-19 induced horrors of Iran, how the clergy in Pakistan do not see this as a duty to their congregations?
Leadership can take many forms. The Pope has now much more respect in Italy because of how he responded to Covid-19. It would be, like the images from Saudi Arabia, a very powerful image of leadership to have the holiest days used to underline the seriousness of the threat we are all working to stop.
How can religious preachers and Imams in good faith claim to know more than the most senior Sunni and Shia leaders in the world? It seems sociopathic to knowingly send the faithful into a needlessly high-risk situation when there are already religious rulings saying this is not required. So do they think Covid-19 is not that serious?
Donate as responsible citizens
Provision of basic rations and relief to people is not only the job of government but also of the super-rich. If not a massive zakat program now, then when will they give out charity? Even leaving aside the deaths, many of which we will never know of, the economic cost of Covid-19 becoming endemic is going to be very high. A whole lot of hope is being put on a vaccine — which is odd in a country where polio is still a problem despite a vaccine. So if the state can not take care, the super-rich should come forward.
The government before making major decisions on the next phase of Covid-19, should not ignore lessons the world has learnt in handling the pandemic. In the meanwhile, we should all fasten our belts to face a new set of challenges with our efforts at striking a balance between the economy and the rapidly rising Covid-19 crisis.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.