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How Pakistan And UK’s Responses To The COVID-19 Crisis Were Similar

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Syed Husain compares the coronavirus situation including the governments and public’s response to the crisis in Pakistan and the UK.

There are more than 3,873,000 cases of coronavirus, and more than 267,871 people died across the globe.

When China announced a lockdown in Wuhan, the severity of it shocked the world. Lockdown is a transcendent approach in which the clear priority is suppressing the growth of infections and saving lives. There was no travel into or out of the city, and all transport and private cars were suspended within the city boundaries. Only grocery stores and pharmacies stayed open. There were also horrors, such as lonely deaths. But ultimately the inflexible measures seem to have done the trick. In the first seven days of the lockdown, the number of people infected by each individual with the virus dropped. Two months later, China is reporting no new local cases.

The gradualist approach adopted by Britain, U.S, and Pakistan has been severely criticised in the said countries subsequently.  The UK, and Pakistan lost an opportunity to contain the virus, as they had more than two months from what happened in China. China first reported cases of mysterious Sars-like pneumonia, to the WHO on 31 December. At this point there was no confirmed human-to-human transmission, and little was known about the virus, but within three days Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong had all stepped up screening at border points.

On March 16, Prime Minister Boris Johnson led the first daily coronavirus press conference, saying that the government now advised all UK residents to avoid non-essential social contact and travel where possible. On Friday March 20 this was extended to include a shutdown of all bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants in the UK. From the same day all schools in England, Scotland and Wales were shut until further notice. Only vulnerable children, or those who are the sons and daughters of employees in the NHS or other key industries, will be permitted to remain at school

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On March 23, PM Boris Johnson announced a ratcheting-up of the UK’s coronavirus policies, prime minister put the UK under lockdown saying that police will now have the power to fine people who gather in groups of more than two or who are outside for non-essential reasons. Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed the government’s slow response indolent approach to confronting the virus threat after a new study from Imperial College’s Covid-19 team, showing that the government’s path would lead to a much higher death toll and quickly overwhelm the National Health Service. The government also asked UK mobile networks to send a message to everyone in the UK instructing them that they must stay at home.

I have been regularly comparing the situation in Pakistan. There are similarities in UK government and Pakistan government’s approach and people’s response too, when it comes to lockdown. While all provinces have announced the lockdown, Prime Minister Imran Khan again reiterated the government can’t confine 220 million people to their homes through a complete lockdown to arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

I am not surprised over the general public’s violation of lockdown orders in Pakistan. It’s the religious leadership, and despite fatwas issued in most of the Islamic countries, they are adamant to ignore the seriousness of the situation. While many Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, have cancelled communal prayers, Pakistan’s mosques remained open during the early weeks of lockdown. I personally believe that all mosques in Pakistan should go under government’s control like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Morocco, where no Imam of any mosque can violate the government’s instructions. Police can always deal with the general public. State should come first not the religion.

China is often harshly criticised for limiting personal rights by many countries in the West. Yet, more in the West are asking why their countries are not taking such tough action to control their own outbreaks. A strong state implements rigorous policies.

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A robust sense of community ensures people take actions to support each other. In all of the countries that have managed to better contain the coronavirus, strong and even draconian actions were taken without significant public outcry. People have accepted school closures, work from home arrangements, cancelled events. While in Britain, only one notification from the government to the mosques is enough, I am not aware of any mosque violating the lockdown instructions. I reject the comparison of literate and illiterate societies. It’s only the case of implementing and respecting the laws. During the first week of lockdown, my son allowed me to go for a walk early in the morning, but after the first week I have decided not to take a risk until situation improves.

The trust in public institutions and civic services is crucial, and I have complete faith in police and National Health Services. I am supporting them both by staying at home. I am filling a questionnaire every week to update hospital on weekly basis, that’s how they are monitoring people at home without going to the doctors.

But in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the nationwide lockdown will be lifted in phases starting from Saturday May 9. We know that we’re doing it at a time when our curve is going up but it is not edging up as we were expecting. The announcement came as Sindh and Punjab both crossed 9,000 cases on Thursday and reported their highest daily death tolls. The total numbers of deaths countrywide have reached 585, registering a 100 per cent increase over the last 10 days.

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Naya Daur