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Analysis Coronavirus Economy Editor Picks Governance Health

Lockdowns Without Objectives: Where The Problem Lies

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There has been vociferous debate in the media as well as amongst the public as to whether a lockdown is the right approach in attempting to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This notwithstanding, lockdowns have been imposed in various provinces in Pakistan. And in addition to this, even the federal government has announced in unison with provincial governments that the lockdown shall continue till at least the 14th of April 2020.

As it goes, the federal government is of the opinion that a complete lockdown will have profound and disastrous consequences for the vast majority of the people, who as it is, are already below the poverty line. It is asserted that such lockdowns will hit hard the lower and middle classes, with daily wagers being effectively out of work and without recourse to any means to sustain themselves. The salaried class will also face mass terminations on account of business cost cutting, and in addition to this, smaller businesses may go bankrupt as opposed to the bigger, deep-pocketed companies. The federal government has further affirmed that the state cannot replicate the response of developed countries in light of the sorry state of Pakistan’s economy.

On the other hand, the Sindh government, which is seen to be leading the lockdown efforts in the country, has asserted that it is imperative that Pakistan take action early and before the pandemic becomes unmanageable. It asserts that the government has no option but to lockdown the province and follow social distancing, and in doing so, it pinpoints the examples of certain major economies around the world, who have also resorted to this policy. Furthermore, the Sindh government asserts that that the poor shape of the economy is the very reason that preventive measures must be taken at the onset, and not once it overwhelms the already faltering and underfinanced healthcare system of the country.

In considering the above, the correct approach perhaps lies in the middle somewhere. Although it is correct that a complete lockdown may have adverse consequences for the lower and middle class families, amongst others, may cripple the economy, and may not even be sustainable in the long-run, in the alternative, without a lockdown of any kind, Pakistanis may very well be rearing for a slaughter, with an already overwhelmed and under financed healthcare system collapsing under the pressure.

Hence, a logical conclusion to the above would be that although a lockdown is important, it cannot go on indefinitely. In order for it to be effective, a lockdown must be accompanied with actionable road maps and achievable objectives so that it may eventually be lifted. Any lack of focus, or equivocation on the objectives to be achieved or the road map to be followed would strip the populace of its possible rewards.

Eventually, the lack of goal-oriented implementation will rob the lockdown of all its legitimacy and authority. And unfortunately, this is precisely what is happening in Sindh right now.

In Sindh, people who were once abiding by the government directives for a lockdown have now openly started flouting it. As we speak, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians can be seen loitering in public spaces, children can be seen playing outdoors and daily wagers and businesses can be observed surreptitiously resuming their trade.

Although the Chief Minister of the province has been trumpeted as having taken the lead in the fight against COVID-19, with publicized attempts to increase testing, screening, wards and other facilities, there has been an absolute dearth of information to the public as to how many hospitals, doctors, nurses, wards, other facilities and testing kits are required in order for the province to be ready for the lifting of the lockdown and face a subsequent and possible surge in COVID-19 cases. In essence, the government needs to tell the citizens what all needs to be invested in the healthcare system immediately in order for the province to be ready, and if such investments are not possible, then the next best possible plan of action.

Without clarity in the above, a sense of frustration is bound to set in within the general populace, who, without any end in sight, would deem it appropriate to venture out to make a living, feed their families or simply to take a stroll. With each passing day without a clear endgame, the government will find it more and more difficult to enforce social distancing norms and restrict public movement.

In a situation where there is a lockdown without a corresponding plan of action for its eventual lifting, its enforcement becomes more and more onerous – and less and less likely. In the end, if the objective of the lockdown was merely to delay the effects of the Coronavirus, then in essence, such relief would be short-lived, and would ultimately come at an extremely high cost.

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Naya Daur