Yesterday, Pakistan reached the 4th week and most critical phase of the Corona Virus Pandemic. It is now a race against time to successfully deploy critical medical supplies from abroad and provide safe conditions to medical staff.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, insists that taking precautions and staying indoors is the best measure; denying the virus space to conflagrate. After decades of loot and plunder; an otherwise rich and resourceful country became devoid of wealth — so passive measures are our only line of defence.
With a confused economic policy, lack of enforcement in a range of issues, and a deficient health system, everything could choke. There is no other option. All we can do is support him; by locking ourselves indoors and pray.
On 26 February, Pakistan confirmed first two cases of the coronavirus. Both patients had returned from Iran. The following week, three more cases were confirmed. By the third week, the confirmed cases were 53. Then the spike began. Within the next 11 days, the total cases exceeded 1,200. Most of the infected people came from abroad, but local infections also began to increase.
At least three provinces, Sindh (in lead), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are taking bold steps to fight the epidemic. Punjab, the most populous province, is also adopting promising measures. While Kashmir’s response has proved to be successful, Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed a spike in cases. Mortality rate i.e. conversion of infection to death, has shown some encouraging results; only four out of nine fatalities had multiple causes.
Some virology experts term the next two weeks as critical. The virus could spike exponentially as it did in China, Italy, Spain, France, USA and Iran. It has the potential to overwhelm the frail, ill-equipped and neglected health care system of Pakistan. If this tragedy takes place — projected results point towards a grim picture.
Contrarians while citing the low mortality rate, argue that there exists some unexplained immunity that shall ultimately flatten the curve. Also, by mid-April, Ultra Violet rich sunlight might kill infections in the atmosphere.
Government of Pakistan, instead of announcing a curfew, imposed a partial lockdown. Prime Minister argues, panic poses a greater threat than the epidemic itself. Hence, poor people belonging to the working class have not yet panicked.
These challenging times threaten the existence of the downtrodden. Philanthropists everywhere who take care of the less privileged, have been mobilized for help. They provide despite widespread hoarding and the selfish interests of the speculators and elitist classes in the system. These classes may exploit this pandemic to make quick bucks.
Geographically, India is located in the same latitude zone as Pakistan. Genetically and ethnically the two countries have similar populations. In sharp contrast, India despite lesser incidents and low casualty ratio is taking no chances and has gone into a complete shutdown through brute force.
India’s aggressive nature of lockdown also helps the government to dilute street agitations against its citizenship law.
Why India went for such drastic measures is a case study that shall unfold in the upcoming weeks. I pray the immunity theory proves correct — not just because Pakistan benefits from it — but because it saves precious human lives.
The Herd Immunity School does not foresee exponentially rising cases elsewhere, as it predicted for Europe and Iran. Could nature play a role in this? On this Friday, while the country argues whether to pray in mosques and churches, clouds have suddenly swarmed in. Both rain and lockdown reduce pollution, hence they are considered to be Godsend by the people of Pakistan. Among the few options we have, divine intervention remains one of them.
Daily press briefings by the federal and provincial governments indicates many aspects of our national life. Well, dispersed government officials underline the importance of social distancing.
While the Prime Minister, SAPM on Health, and Chairman NDMA put up belligerent faces on televisions, body language of every other member of the official entourage betrays the facts. They expose their faults with a bent conscience. Economic managers know that they have run the ship aground and that from hereon, every economic decision however positive will have negative consequences. At some stage, prime minister while escaping Covid-19, might also have to jettison this overload, which has become equally important.
The brave faces understand the odds but show grit and courage. They mention imminent supplies are arriving Pakistan through personal contacts and also claim that a large collection of healthcare equipment is arriving at Khunjerab Pass (special permit). Government officials admit that the health care system was destined to abandon us in time of need; facilities are insufficient to cater a population of more than 20 million. They further reveal, existing healthcare facilities had either been smuggled or hoarded. Despite being in power, Government is faced with helplessness.
It is painful to see the Prime minister defending the wrongs of economic managers. Either way, negative effects of high-interest rates are visible. Pakistan has reached a stage where even reducing them could turn out to be a nightmare.
In 24 hours Rupee amid growing pressures; lost its value by 10 against the US $. Speculators within the inter bank went on a buying spree and hot money quickies under pressure from their borrowers walked away with their treasures. This has resulted in a flight of over $ 1.5 Billion in an instance. It proved the destructive nature of IMF imposed policies and Hot Money.
Given the spoils earned by elites, Pakistan is, in fact, a rich country. These elites are using the corona crises to hedge their interests and holding the country hostage. Downstream agriculture industries and cartels are focused on the 200 Billion reliefs to agriculture and SMEs.
The government has no idea how to use it. Most likely it will waste away in subsidies to these industries. APTMA rather than act like Bangladesh has already started asking for loan waivers and subsistence. The fact is that all these industries and many others owe hundreds of billions to the government and labour of Pakistan. Unlike India, these parasitic mafia and cartels lack a sense of sacrifice.
According to Dr. Ikram Ul Haq, the long-delayed and much-needed financial relief and stimulus package of Rs 1.3 trillion is “satisfactory” though “insufficient” for majority of the people. Experts question whether Rs. 3000 per month for daily wagers is realistic for an average family size of five? The government can do much more than this cosmetic Rs. 3,000 per labour.
Labourers and daily wagers have turned Prime Minister’s argument for resisting a shutdown into a moot point. Yet the economic team fails to inform the Prime Minister, hundreds of billions in Worker Welfare Fund have piled with business houses since 2006, which they are constitutionally liable to pay.
Business houses and industries are liable to remit 2% profits to Workers Welfare Fund. Amendments to Sections 2 and 4 of the Workers Welfare Ordinance, 1971 were declared ultra vires in 2012 and endorsed by the Supreme Court in 2016. Consequently, all donors are liable to pay billions in arrears since 2006, not pursued by any government in the past eight years.
The prime minister needs to take affirmative action and curative amendment rather than writing off loans and providing subsidies to business houses, responsible for minting money in every crisis.
The government should force them to abide by their legal commitments. This act alone will go a long way in addressing the plight of labour classes.
So as this weekends, let us pray for; the medical supplies to be deployed; our ill-equipped doctors and vulnerable medical staff who brave odds on the frontline; the janitorial staff in hospitals who work with no protective gear; herd immunity theory to come true and that the ultraviolet rich sun shines brightly.
Till the storm is over, every Pakistani must share with the neighbour and remain indoors. Let us pray in earnest.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a military scientist, who has served Pakistan Army, and formerly administered a military college. He is also a news columnist and businessman. Sharaf formerly remained a member of the National Council, acted as the Spokesperson for Defense Production in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Shadow Cabinet and also served as a member of CEC and the PTI Election Commission.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.