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Editorial | Describing Lockdowns As Cowardice Is Factually Incorrect, Dangerous

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Pakistan’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been undermined by a series of absurd comments from its leadership. Perhaps most baffling is the Prime Minister’s insistence that lockdowns are for the cowardly.

The first expression of this ludicrous idea came during the PM’s recent telethon appearance, in which he assured us that those who had “confidence” could overcome any difficulties. He then went on to suggest that the Sindh government’s lockdown measures betrayed their lack of nerve.

He has now built upon this theme further by claiming that India’s Prime Minister Modi is cowardly (“darpok”) enough to close down his country during the pandemic.

Given the PM’s sporting background, it is understandable if he occasionally lapses into a physical training instructor’s talking points. However, to keep repeating that perspective on multiple occasions becomes embarrassing. And in the middle of a global pandemic, linking public health measures to cowardice becomes very dangerous indeed.

Let us go over three reasons why the PM should reconsider his perspective on this matter.

First, the fact that such theatrical bravado is unbecoming of the leader of a country facing multiple crises. It allows the opposition and critics to mock and undermine the legitimacy of the government at a time when the country desperately needs stability.

Second, it must be remembered that the PM’s actual record of courageous decision-making is not very impressive. Few have forgotten his defence of retreats and U-turns – a philosophy which the PTI government has fully practiced since then.

Third, and most importantly: linking lockdowns with cowardice is factually wrong. The strategy of Coronavirus lockdowns began at the epicentre of the outbreak, in China’s Hubei province and the city of Wuhan. China’s leadership has repeatedly informed other countries that it was only an effective lockdown which enabled it to fight the virus successfully. Experience from Italy and Iran suggests the same. Countries which have defied this wisdom – with political and economic systems as diverse as the United States or Sweden – are now facing unjustifiable infection rates and death tolls.

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Everyone in Pakistan hopes that there is some hidden wisdom to the federal government’s determined rejection of proper lockdowns. Those who favour lockdowns in Pakistan, especially medical experts, are sounding out their warnings loud and clear. But all the critics are still praying that somehow the government’s approach proves correct rather than their own – for it will mean that the Pakistani people would have been spared much unnecessary suffering.

Here a question arises for the PM and his government. If their decision to reject proper lockdowns is truly as sound as they claim, why do they feel the need to defend it in such an unscientific, irrational and immature way as “lockdowns are for cowards”?

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