Editorial | Pakistan May Be Days From Covid-19 Disaster: Government Dragging Feet Is Destructive
It seems that Pakistan’s state and society are equally unwilling to countenance the most basic measures that are made necessary by the global Covid-19 pandemic. From the moment when Chinese authorities began fighting the outbreak in the city of Wuhan and all until now, global experience has shown that the most effective means of halting the spread of the virus remains social distancing. That is to say, it is a highly contagious disease and the best way to stop it is to minimize its chances of spreading from people-to-people contact in everyday life.
Rather than explain the importance of this to the Pakistani people and provide the institutional, logistical and economic framework for a lockdown, the PTI’s federal government appears to be committed to the exact opposite. Not only has the federal government made a spurious economic argument for its own lack of willingness or ability to ensure a lock-down, but it also appears to be publicly uncomfortable with the Sindh provincial government’s efforts to combat the pandemic. This attitude is both ill-advised and destructive.
The Prime Minister seems to be wrongly framing the choice before Pakistanis right now. The country does not face a choice between avoiding a serious economic downturn or taking the full range of measures to stop the Coronavirus spreading. The former is inevitable and a consequence of the latter. If the disease spreads as catastrophically in Pakistan as it has in countries as diverse as Iran or Italy, it will impose a terrible toll on our already shaky economy. Policymakers face only the option of managing this toll by taking charge right now and implementing the necessary measures to contain the disease and thus limit its economic damage – or not acting. Failure to act would mean that they would be forced to implement the very same measures later on, with the healthcare system in total disarray, plus social and economic chaos.
One of the most important considerations will be who foots the bill for the inevitable economic slowdown. By all indications at the moment, it seems that ordinary working people face joblessness and total ruin, while industrial and financial elites are doing their best to avoid their feet getting wet. Factories are already laying off Pakistani workers en masse with no relief in sight. This is not just an unethical state of affairs: it is, above all, unsustainable.
All countries affected by Covid-19 face the danger of public rage against authorities if the suffering of ordinary people becomes too great. Pakistan’s rulers, who have been treading on eggshells on that count for months and years now, would do best to be even more cognizant than ruling elites in other countries. If the state does not intervene to ensure a better deal for populations suffering from disease and unemployment, the stark warning is on the wall: existing political and economic arrangements will become unsustainable and irresponsible elites will have only themselves to blame.
The bottom-line is as follows: a country in Pakistan’s position can only brace itself as prudently as possible for the shock. It is not possible to wish away the impending shock – but only to prepare for it, better or worse.
While the callous attitude shown by Pakistan’s urban population to its own well-being in the pandemic is condemnable, it stems from the lack of clarity at the highest level in the country.
Clarity at the policy-making level allowed China, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and others to manage the crisis. An absence of that clarity means that countries like the Trump-governed United States of America stand on the edge of a pit.
Healthcare experts appear to be warning that Pakistan has only a matter of days to change its course – assuming that is still possible at all.