Pakistan: Is lockdown best strategy to contain COVID-19

Owing to the huge budget deficit, current account deficit, low tax collection and soaring local and foreign debt, the government neither has the capacity nor the mechanism for the provision of relief to the daily wagers. The political elite, businessmen and industrialists are working for their vested interest, so they have little part to play in this crisis.

lockdown

The lockdown debate has taken more media airtime than any other corona related discussion. Who did it better? Who was proactive and who was not? Should there be more relaxations, or should it be more stringent? The politics that followed were ugly for the most part. All that in a country, which has achieved the maximum possible stringency level of 100, alongside its neighbouring India.

This may surprise a few. Don’t forget that none other than the World Health Organization (WHO) had applauded Pakistan’s early response on COVID-19. While the situation may look a bit more relaxed than it was, the government’s responses to the pandemic are much more than just the lockdown– most of which Pakistan still abides by.

The Stringency Index is part of Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT), and systematically collects information on several different common policy responses.

While the methodology and the formula are for the academics to analyze, the components that make up the Index appear well-rounded. Closure and containment measures such as school closure, workplace closure, public events cancellations, public transport closure and international travel controls. While Pakistan may well have eased restrictions on a few sectors, the closure of above-mentioned places is still largely in place, and the reason why Pakistan has attained the highest possible stringency value.

Read more: NCC meeting extends partial lockdown till 9th May as cases top 12000

The Index calculation also includes health and economic measures, as the extent of government response. While Pakistan may have lagged behind trace and test, the steps on the economic front measured on the lines of income support, utility payments waivers, debt relief, salary financing support are the ones Pakistan has taken well.

This is not to suggest that Pakistan can now hurry in lifting the restrictions. A lockdown Rollback Checklist developed under the same research effort finds Pakistan more towards ‘more ready to exit lockdown’ along with the likes of US, Russia, China and Singapore. No wonder most countries have not completely lifted the restrictions but are gradually thinking of doing the same.

Why lockdown is necessary and its parallel woes:

Lockdown was inevitable due to the contagious nature of Covid-19 and the already overburdened health care system. But unplanned lockdown has proven to be devastating for the poorest segments in the society. According to the labor force survey, there are 20 million daily wagers in Pakistan, if every daily wager has five dependent family members, the lockdown will result in food insecurity for almost 50 per cent population of Pakistan. Out of the 20 million daily wagers, 8 million are not employed in the agricultural sector and their income has reduced to zero.

They need immediate support for food and other necessities. Owing to the huge budget deficit, current account deficit, low tax collection and soaring local and foreign debt, the government has neither the capacity nor has the mechanism for the provision of relief to the daily wagers. The political elite, businessmen and industrialists are working for their vested interest, so they have little part to play in this crisis.

Middle class constitutes 35% of Pakistan’s population and so they have an important role to play. If every middle-class family supports a poor family, we can successfully manage the long term effects of the lockdown. But, the question arises: Middle class itself finds it difficult to manage their finances due to stagnant income, inflation, and higher taxation, how will they be able to help the poor?

Read more: Lockdown eased: Will state be successful in ensuring social distancing?

Most Middle-class families employee housemaids. These housemaids represent the most deserving segment of society. Unfortunately, wages paid to them are as low as 100 rupees per day or RS.3000 per month.

This amount is equal to a one-time bill of dining at a hotel or fast food outlet. If we can manage to skip a dinner outside, with the saved amount, we could double the salary of a housemaid. Do not give them charity give them their due right with dignity. It is time to recheck our expenditures and monthly budget. We need to divert our spending from unnecessary luxury items to necessities for the poor.

There are many things we can cut from our monthly home budget e.g we could save on the electricity bill by not using the air conditioner for the next two months. We could reduce our cell phone bill to minimal. We could cut our fuel bill by working from home. We could save an amount on the maintenance of our motor vehicle. And lastly, we should stop using costly packed foods.

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