Whose lockdown version is better? Sindh or Central?

Sindh and Centre are trading barbs over lockdown because they are desperately trying to protect their turf by claiming successes for themselves while holding the other party responsible for failures and shortcomings, argues Air Cdre (Retd), Jamal Hussain.

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The lockdown controversy surrounding the Sindh province which favours a strict lockdown, while the federal government insists on a much milder form continues to rage, particularly in the electronic media of Pakistan. In theory, these are two different strategies, but in practice, are they dissimilar? To answer the question, one needs to study and examine what exactly is the role of lockdown in the war against the raging Covid-19.

Lockdowns by themselves will not eliminate the current pandemic; it will, however, help to contain the rapid spread of the deadly virus and keep it within a manageable limit. To overcome the crisis, lockdown must be complemented by mass testing of the populace, contact tracing, tracking and quarantining the actual, suspected and potential Coronavirus victims.

Lockdown, divine intervention or herd immunity: What to seek?

Lockdowns, no matter how severe, will only delay the inevitable unless a cure is found, or eventually a vaccine becomes available worldwide. The danger would also be averted if Mother Nature comes to the rescue or through Divine intervention, the virus on its own mutates and becomes harmless—viruses are known to do that.

Read more: Pandemic slows down? Europe braces up for lockdown ease

Alternatively, if the vast majority of the world populace after being afflicted by the virus survive and develop immunity from further attacks, referred to by the experts as herd immunity, the crisis would be overcome. Experts claim humans have survived other deadly pandemic attacks primarily through the development of herd immunity over some time.

Many in Pakistan might be horrified at the herd immunity theory, but in the ongoing crisis, Sweden has adopted such an approach, where the citizens were ordered to follow the distancing, frequent hand washing, avoidance of large gatherings and wearing of facemasks instructions when venturing out but industries and commerce were allowed to operate within the defined parameters. Compared to its European neighbours, Sweden has suffered a higher percentage of mortality, but the economy has not been ravaged, and they believe the nation is on the mend.

A near-total lockdown properly enforced is the most effective option if the virus spread is to be minimized, but it will have a severe impact on the national economy. If continued for a prolonged period, it could result in an economic meltdown. A half-baked lockdown where all industrial and commercial activities are suspended and the people continue to mingle openly in public with the state a helpless spectator would result in the worst of both worlds. The virus spread would continue unabated, and the economy would be jolted.

Read more: Pakistan: Is lockdown best strategy to contain COVID-19

China fares better than the Americas and Europe

China was able to enforce a complete lockdown of just the Wuhan city, and its success depended on its ability to use its extensive state power and resources to provide the basic necessities to the people under lockdown. It has the situation under control for the moment, but the danger continues to lurk until the availability of a cure and vaccine.

Europe and the USA, on the other hand, delayed the lockdown option and have paid a stiff price in human casualties and suffering. Subsequently, even with fairly effective lockdown measures, the success so far has been marginal partly because, despite their immense wealth and resources, testing needed at the level has not been achieved. Britain, for example, is unable to conduct the 100,000 daily tests required. The USA also is well short of its testing needs. Their economy in the meanwhile has taken a major hit because the lockdown effectively shut down all economic and business activities.

How long it will take for them to recover is anybody’s guess. Imagine, if robust economies of the developed world are in such bad shape because of lockdown, how will the fragile economies of the developing world fare? Many perhaps would be damaged beyond redemption.

Almost all countries barring Japan and Sweden have adopted the lockdown strategy at various levels—Japan is now considering introducing lockdown measures. There is no one size fit all solution to tackle the Covid-19 menace. Each nation-state has to carefully assess its strengths and limitations and develop a workable policy.

Read more: When Europe plans to ease lockdown, why can’t we?

Despite all the restrictions and measures that are endorsed by various nations, experts believe Coronavirus will haunt the globe for up to two years, and over 60 to 70% of the populace will be infected before normalcy can return. Continuing with the lockdown of major industrial, commercial and business enterprises for a prolonged period is no longer feasible. A gradual easing of lockdown restrictions is under review by almost all countries. There are only ‘hellish options’ to confront the virus, claims Thomas Friedman, writing for the New York Times.

Total or partial lockdown: Sindh and Centre, playing by party lines?

The PPP controlled Sindh’s insistence of a total lockdown while the Centre under the PTI favouring a much milder form notwithstanding, the result of lockdowns in Sindh and the provinces governed by the PTI (Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), is about the same—fairly ineffective. While the PPP currently claims to have switched over to a ‘focused’ lockdown strategy and the Centre has adopted a ‘smart’ lockdown, the difference is only marginal and rhetorical.

PPP’s insistence about its inability to enforce the lockdown fully because of lack of support from the Centre does not hold much water. For one, with the 18th Amendment in place, PPP has the mandate to independently implement the measures to enforce its lockdown strategy even if the Centre held a different view. And if the Centre were to wholeheartedly support Sindh in its endeavour, the result would have been no different.

Read more: COVID-19: Is Sindh government going to enforce smart lockdown?

The ground realities about the country’s poor economic resources, the weak writ of the state and the abysmal social conditions of the majority of the populace particularly in the urban centres would have made a proper lockdown almost impossible to sustain. And uncontrollable rioting and revolt of the masses would have been inevitable. 

Rhetoric aside, in reality, there is little difference in the lockdown policy implementation between the PPP and the PTI. Unfortunately, both are desperately trying to protect their turf by claiming successes for themselves while holding the other party responsible for failures and shortcomings. One can only wish all sides would gel together to avert the existential threat the pandemic is posing, but sadly, that is not to be.

If only wishes were horses…..

Air Cdre (Retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and national newspapers including Dawn, The News, and The Nation. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.