How Pakistan became safer than New York

"I am most concerned about my wife and daughters stuck in Lahore. Pakistan’s public health system isn’t exactly known for its effectiveness and efficiency." As it turns out this wasn't true. Within weeks, owing to the timely measures undertaken by the government, Lahore became a safer bet than New York.

Pakistan

Let me go out on a limb and say something that could come back and haunt me. Pakistan is doing well at managing the Pandemic!

Allow me to explain.

Stranded in different parts of the world

It so happens that I have a very broad stake in Corona Virus response efforts across different countries. The pandemic caught me and my immediate family a bit flat-footed. I am currently in Toronto, my eldest daughter is under lockdown in New York, and my wife and two daughters who are based in New York but were visiting Lahore, are stuck there until flights are resumed.

I, therefore, have been keenly watching broader developments, and it has given me a good overall sense of the crisis response in all three locations.

Read more: Covid-19: Pakistani economy can thrive if managed well

Assessing my family’s circumstances, I triaged the situation as least critical for myself, followed by my daughter in New York, with my wife and other two daughters in Lahore as most at risk. The reasons are obvious.

Even though it is just as scary as it is in the US, Canada is fairing much better by comparison. My daughter in New York is at an elevated risk, she is after all, at the epicentre of the pandemic in the US. But I have a measure of faith in their health system, and my daughter assures me she is taking all necessary precautions.

However, for obvious reasons, I am most concerned about my wife and daughters stuck in Lahore. Pakistan’s public health system isn’t exactly known for its effectiveness and efficiency. Hygiene in the country is suspect, at best. With our population density and social habits, distancing is well near impossible. So, in my mind, I have valid reasons for concern.

Plot twist: Pakistan faring well against coronavirus

However, it seems, my concerns are misplaced. Pakistan is doing way better than I expected, and it deserves credit when credit is due.

Somewhere along the rough and tumble of letting devotees from Iran enter Pakistan, the slip-ups of the Tablighi Jamaat, and the divide over complete versus partial lockdown, the government seems to have found its footing. The politicization of the issue seems to have taken a back seat for the moment, and instead of blame flying around, there is a semblance of coordination between the provincial and federal governments. Most surprising of all, despite the deep division in opinion, the clergy and religious leadership seems to have chosen the path of dialogue rather than agitation. These are all encouraging signs.

Read more: Covid-19: Pakistan Police on the frontlines

The number of infected people, as well as the mortality rate in Pakistan, is lower than Canada or the US, the two countries I am focussed on, albeit, for very selfish reasons. Pakistan has a mortality rate of 2.12% (10,000 infected / 212 dead), compared to 4.82% in Canada (38,000 infected / 1,834 dead) and 5.53% in the US (831,000 infected / 46,000 dead). In fact, there is another statistic – infections per million people – that is a relevant indicator of the level of spread, and the risk of getting infected.

In Pakistan, 46 people / million are infected. In Canada, this number is 1,011 (almost 20 times higher than Pakistan), and in the US it is an astronomical 2,522. In other words, there is a 55 times higher chance of contracting the virus in the US compared to Pakistan.

Timely social safety measures 

I am impressed with the way the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) has been set up and is working. The daily briefing is just as professional as the White House one, and far less acrimonious and confrontational as well. The Prime Minister himself has remained on the front and in the centre. Even though there have been grumbling detractors, in large part, people understand his concerns and constraints in balancing conflicting health and economic fallouts.

Read more: Post Covid-19 world: More Pak-India skirmishes?

The Emergency Relief Package of more than a billion US Dollars, an astronomical figure considering Pakistan’s precarious fiscal situation, is already being distributed amongst 12.5 million low-income residents. In Purchase Power Parity, each Pakistani recipient is getting roughly US$400. We must not forget that this assistance is being generously supported many folds through private donations and charity.

I am watching public service messages being broadcast by government agencies as well as the private sector. Though we as a nation, are not known for heeding warnings or taking directions, and this crisis is no exception, yet that’s a good start. Change in habits and progress happens in small increments, and these are all steps in the right direction.

Though there are occasional news reports about medical equipment shortages, yet they are not as acute as have been seen or talked about in both the US or Canada. I know that’s not a very empirical comparison, but perceptions are somewhat a reflection of reality, and perceptions matter as well.

Read more: Rural areas of Pakistan next target of Covid-19

Some say Pakistan is about a month behind the curve in terms of the spread of the virus, and that it entered that critical stage where other countries experienced a sharp rise in cases and deaths. While that remains a concern, I personally, feel confident, to an extent, having agreed with my wife and daughters to remain bunkered up in Lahore, rather than venture back into New York.

Never would I have imagined Lahore to be a safer bet than New York. But that’s exactly what has happened. Fingers crossed, time will determine how right or wrong I was.

Waseem Syyed, is a Canadian of Pakistani origin. He has had a long career in international development, working around the world for the United Nations and global NGOs for more than twenty years. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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