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Editorial | Is Govt’s Decision To Lift Lockdown Meant To Appease Big Business?

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Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced the end of what remained of the ‘smart’ lockdown in Pakistan. We are given to understand that social distancing will be ensured through a series of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Given how little such SOPs were enforced during the ‘smart’ lockdown, one can imagine how little they will matter now with the lockdown officially lifted.

The PM has relied on claims that he is doing this for “the poor”, but his actual economic policies during the lockdown have been all about big business. His solicitude for the construction industry, etc should not be passed off as policies that consider the situation of the poor. The paltry forms of state support to poor people – mostly rebranding and hyping up of existing welfare schemes – suggests how much money the PTI government is willing to spend to back up its professed concern for the needy.

There does exist a model for PM Imran Khan’s actual approach to the Coronavirus pandemic: and it comes from a country which he loves pointing to, i.e. Sweden. In that country, health authorities explicitly took the view that they were not going to enforce social-distancing measures through a lockdown. They took full responsibility for this policy and any risks that it entails.

Today Sweden does have a much higher death toll than its Scandinavian neighbours who opted for the ‘conventional’ wisdom of the lockdown. Much can be said – and will be said, in that country – about the authorities who led them down this road in dealing with the pandemic. But we can be sure that the decision-makers will not be able to dodge responsibility for their own policy by relying on insincere talking points.

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The Pakistani people deserve to know the truth on three points, which they have not been allowed so far.

First: the actual extent of Coronavirus cases and especially the death toll from these. There are worrying indications that the numbers are being misreported and fudged by the authorities. Pakistanis must know exactly how harmful (or benign?) the outbreak is.

Second: the current value of the basic reproduction number (R0) in Pakistan, which tells us how many new infections on average are being caused by existing carriers of the virus. This item of information is shared with populations by leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and helps them understand the current rate of spread of the pandemic – as well as how much of an effort is needed to stop it.

Third: the actual priority which the government places on containing the spread of the pandemic versus the need to keep various sectors of the economy running.

It would be best if the Prime Minister of Pakistan came clean on the approach which he and his ministers seem to be relying on: i.e. we cannot afford to care about the avoidable loss of human life, beyond a certain point.

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Naya Daur