To quarantine or not to quarantine? That is the question

Stuck in a debate regarding a national lockdown, the government is promoting self-quarantine for everyone. However, the lower-class labor, living on daily wages, are dependent on employers to prioritize sanitary conditions in their industries to help fight the global contagion, COVID-19.

quarantine

In the wake of the current global pandemic, businesses all over the world are suffering. People are trying to socially distance themselves while working in every capacity possible to continue earning. ‘Working from home’ in self-quarantine is possible in administrative jobs, however, people working on the field, in factories and industries cannot transfer their work to household premises.

In times like these, people expect the government to step up and take strict action to help the people land on a firm political standing regarding such an issue. In his recent address, PM Imran Khan opposed the idea of a nation-wide lockdown for the sake of the poor, who according to him, would be disproportionately affected if the country shut down. However, several people and the opposing parties are standing up against the PM prioritizing the poor’s life over a stable economy. Sindh government has already places a lockdown all over the province and is strongly promoting self-quarantine.

Stuck in this debate, the Pakistani government is still gearing up to handle the current standing of COVID-19 in the country. In its fifth week, the virus has officially infected 893 individuals in Pakistan – marking a potentially exponential spread. Debilitating fears are now beginning to emerge on whether or not Pakistan can economically sustain such a difficult situation.

To help lower the losses faced by large-scale and small-scale industries, Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) has urged the government to waive off consumers’ electricity and gas bills for at least three months in the wake of prevalent economic halt caused by coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement issued on Monday, LCCI President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh also asked the property owners to wave off rents for two months. The LCCI president noted that small businesses, employees and daily wagers were facing challenges in terms of livelihoods. This is because many of them were either not getting any work or were staying home on government’s orders of a quarantine.

Read more: Govt to give away billions of rupees in corona-relief package for poor

“People are restricted to their homes while businesses have closed; therefore, the government should facilitate the masses by not charging utility bills for three months”. He suggested the government to use marriage halls as quarantine centres amidst the shortage of healthcare facilities. In return, he added, the government should give three-year tax holiday to the owners of marriage halls, given the current situation. He hoped that deadline for the renewal of LCCI membership would also be extended in wake of corona crisis.

‘Uniform Tariff’

On the other hand, former LCCI Vice President and Bund Road Industrial Association Chairman Syed Mahmood Ghaznavi has urged the government to implement “a uniform electricity tariff for all industries”.

Presiding over a meeting of the association at LCCI, Ghaznavi said the government has given a tariff of 0.75% to the textile sector, “and the same should be given to all industries so as to bring down their input costs”. He said that Pakistan would not be able to increase its exports until the government succeeds in reducing the electricity tariff for industries. “It is almost impossible to increase exports unless factories get electricity at affordable rates.”

Former LCCI Vice President, Syed Mahmood Ghaznavi has urged the government to implement a uniform electricity tariff for all industries

Ghaznavi said that the main reason behind Pakistan not achieving its export potential was not only confined to rupee devaluation, as high electricity tariff also hits the industries hard. “Cheap electricity is necessary to remain competitive in the region. Currently, our products are inferior to that of India and Bangladesh,” he added.

Industries are taking measures to make workplaces safe

Several industries and factories have taken special steps to harbor a safe environment for their workplaces to continue operating. A lot of these industries are situated in the economic zones of Pakistan.

While promoting a work quarantine, Punjab Industrial Estates Development & Management Company (PIEDMC) has initiated a campaign in which hand sanitizers will be placed in all factories and compulsory hand washing would be implemented before entering the premises.

This is being done to safeguard workers and managerial staff in the fight against coronavirus. Currently, more than 2,000 factories are working in all seven industrial estates with approximately 250,000 workers. The decision was taken in a meeting chaired by PIEDMC Chairman Syed Nabeel Hashmi. Shahzad Azam, President BOM-SIE, and Arif Qasim, President BOM-QIE, and representatives of all industrial estates attended the meeting and resolved to enforce measures against the epidemic.

Read more: UK govt orders three-week nationwide lockdown to tackle virus

Even, Faisalabad Industrial Estate Development and Management Company (FIEDMC) has started screening of employees while entering the premises with thermal sensors; asking them to avoid handshakes; cleaning hands with sanitizers; punching attendance with cards instead of biometrics; keeping sufficient distance between employees, both at workplace and canteen; sanitizing the conveyance vehicles and loading them with half the capacity; and spraying of disinfectants in and around the industrial city premises.

Meanwhile, conveners of the Standing Committees of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry have appreciated the LCCI for suggesting precautionary measures to the government and creating awareness about the epidemic. LCCI President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, who presided over the meeting, said that when the initial cases of coronavirus were reported in China, the chamber had urged the government to take preventive measures, conduct through screening of travelers and establish special desks with equipped medical teams at all airports. He said the government deserved appreciation for responding quickly to the pandemic and taking effective measures.

Amidst this worldwide crisis, we hope that a potent vaccine turns up soon. Perhaps, the special economic package by the PTI government will provide enough relief for the lower class to prioritize their health and understand the gravity of the situation.

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