Coronavirus: Tackling the Pandemic in Pakistan

Author Name: Shaza Arif      12 Apr 2020     Environment

The world is encountering a lethal pandemic, that has killed a large number of individuals with more then 76, 000 people losing their lives. Pakistan too is faced with a two pronged dilemma as it has to deal with an unstable economy along with the pandemic.

The corona virus has roped in the whole world, no country remains safe from this virus, which is the most challenging threat at present. The US in particular, has been unable to get hold of the situation and has now been transformed into the epicenter of the corona virus, with new cases and deaths being reported. Likewise, the situation in Europe has also taken a very critical shape with high cases in Italy, Spain , France, Germany and UK.

In Pakistan , the government has been tackling the issue aptly. Prime Minister Imran Khan resorted to the strategy of a partial lockdown in a gradual manner. Initially all educational institutions were closed , exams were put off. Similarly, wedding halls and shopping malls where people were expected to gather were completely closed in the second stage followed by offices and intercity transport in the third phase. In the subsequent stage, international flights were called off till 5th April 2020.

Moreover, with the consent of the religious scholars and the fatwa issued by the Al-Azhar Global Centre in Egypt, it was announced that congregational prayers would be limited for the time being and people were advised to pray at home. These measures by the Pakistani government must be praised as the strategy was very well thought out. A complete lock down imposed simultaneously would have precipitated into chaos and panic as was witnessed in India, the night it was announced. Even the Indian government had to revise its strategy and had to give exceptions to certain entities.

The government was well informed about the hardships that the people from the lower-income group would face due to the ongoing conditions. Relief packages are being given by the federal and provincial governments and the construction companies are allowed to resume work in the wake of providing economic relief to the labor workforce. Recently, the establishment of a Tiger Force by the government has been announced which will be tasked to aid those who are confined to their homes and are encountered with challenges with regards to their daily lives. The universities in Pakistan are directed to commence online classes to save the students from losing their academic year. Likewise, hospitals and quarantine centers have been developed throughout the country in case the number of patients increase.

In a recent press meeting, the Prime Minister brought to our attention a very alarming situation by stating that if at the present time, social distancing was well executed, the corona virus cases might go up to 25,000 by 25th April. However, if proper precautions are not exercised, then the cases might top up to 50,000. This comes with a stern warning as our hospitals are not equipped to handle such a high number of patients

A recent research paper by Imperial College emphasized the important of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) to prevent the disease. The crux of the paper was that different variables such as self-isolation, quarantine of people above the age of 70, closing of educational institutions and social distancing could minimize the spread of corona.

More importantly, whenever all these non-pharmaceutical interventions are applied , it can have a dramatic effect on flattening the curve of the spread of the virus and ultimately on the death rate as well. Hence, these measures which require very little effort yet are very impactful. Since, the virus is also spreading through individuals who don’t have apparent symptoms, the threat has become more invisible which complicates the process of curtailing the threat.

The study by Imperial College has important guidelines for us according to which non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) applied simultaneously can mitigate the threat of overwhelming the healthcare system. As responsible citizens, we are already aware how crucial social distancing is. Consequently, we should execute this subtle yet impactful task for preventing the spread of infection. Hence, we should practice the NPIs strictly as our current objective is to cap the cases under a figure of 25, 000 cases before the start of May. If this figure is not passed, then it could lead to the return of normalcy by as early as June.

For the ongoing month, it is highly recommended that the partial lockdown must stay intact. However, a more strict posture of social distancing should be exhibited through partial lockdown.

Moreover, the flight operations that are expected to resume shortly, need to be restricted to as minimum as possible. Due to a slight shortage of anti-bacterial products in the markets, the respective industries should be given permission to increase their production.

 COVID-19 requires a data-driven approach in order to trace the patterns of its spread. Consequently, more medical labs throughout the Pakistan should be upgraded for more testing as currently Pakistan is lagging in testing especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the provincial government has not able to track all the suspected cases of the virus. Following the pandemic, another aspect has been brought to our attention that how important it is to have the documentation of the workforce.

In western countries, the labor workforce is usually registered and their financial status is known to the government. Once the pandemic is over, there is a need to commence an initiative where the workforce is registered so that in uncertain times, those who rely on daily wages don’t have to suffer heavily as a result of events that impede routine affairs. Pakistan despite being a developing country with limited resources is conducting itself very responsibly during this time and heading in the right direction. As common citizens we must play our part in order to fight this disease by extending full cooperation to government so that we can come out of the pandemic with as minimum a loss as possible.

 

The writer is a research fellow at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in The Frontier Post. She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.