Pakistan’s Leadership Has Opted For A Dangerous Path Of Herd Immunity
The authorities in Pakistan have embarked on an undeclared path of herd immunity, while disregarding the earnest requests of the “frontline warriors”, the doctors. Undoubtedly, the primary driver of this decision is the poor economic health of the country. Nonetheless, keeping in view 2.2 percent mortality rate per hundred infections, the pretension on the part of authorities that “everything is under control” is certainly worrisome.
Herd immunity in the medical jargon is defined as mass immunisation of the population, which is possible in two ways. Firstly, the vast population can be injected with antibodies, a type of passive immunity. Secondly, to expose the population to the virus and those who are physically fit enough will succeed in overcoming the virus and will develop active immunity against that particular virus. Since the vaccine is nowhere yet in the sight, obviously the latter mode of immunity is to be considered.
This is dangerous, inhumane and undoubtedly will take a heavy toll on precious human lives in the near future.
Given the poor healthcare infrastructure of Pakistan coupled with strain on the medical equipment throughout the world, it is no less than playing with fire to opt for herd immunity, giving precedence to economic vulnerabilities at the cost of human lives. With a population of 220 million, doing the maths to calculate the expected number of deaths in view of a 2.2 % mortality rate is too scary to estimate.
The prevailing assumption that more people are dying from road accidents, etc. than Covid-19 is nothing more than preposterous complacency. It serves only to keep oneself in the unrealisable hope that things “may” get better. Certainly, it goes against scientific and medical principles. In other words, it is propagation of unreason.
It is necessary to understand the subtle difference between man-made disasters and the contagion. In the former case, fatalities are calculable and avoidable with careful handling of the situation as the disease does not spread from one person to the other. On the other side, in the latter situation one infected person has the capacity to infect as many people as they may come into contact with during the active phase of the virus. In effect, there will be the maximum number of infections and deaths. In the absence of medicines against Covid-19, when we equate road accidents and bacterial infection, we are understandably and willingly inviting an unmanageable disaster.
We are a self-contradicting people indeed. On the one hand, day in and day out doctors are being saluted as the “frontline warriors” in our fight against the virus. And yet, in contrast, we have taken a 180-degree turn on doctors’ advice of a stricter lockdown, social distancing and other precautionary measures. Medical practitioners have warned that in case the lockdown is relaxed there may be a stage in the future when the doctors will have to make difficult choices of whom to provide treatment first due to the possible flooding of patients into the hospitals – and who to allow to die.
We are a nation that believes in repeating history – but that side of history which is injurious to ourselves. Pakistan had a reasonable amount of time to prepare itself for the impending viral outbreak when it first emerged in China. However the Powers That Be did not prepare in advance.
Ironically, the government has introduced a new term “smart lockdown”. As per the authorities, in this smart lockdown, economic activities may be conducted while ensuring that precautionary measures are taken. Nonetheless, this seems an implausible calculation. We, as human beings, are inclined to taking risks. For instance, if a vendor has two options, one to either stay home and avoid risk of Covid-19 infection and the other to go out and sell their products, and the second choice entails risks of infection, they are likely to opt for the latter choice with a hope that they might escape the virus. And that hope is primarily responsible for the spike in infections.
Undeniably, 55 million (24%) of the population lives below the poverty line. Nevertheless, the government’s argument that the people will die of hunger due to lockdown is unsubstantiated.
The downtrodden sections may undergo serious issues, but no one will die of hunger. At least, no such case has come to light. In Pakistan, our social system compels our relatives and acquaintances to help those of our relatives who are in-need. According to the statistics, around 1% of the GDP amount is donated by Pakistanis in charity every year. Hence, needy people could have been helped by the philanthropist organisations and individuals. It is also necessary to realise that the lives of those 55 million souls were never easy even before the lockdown.
In this pursuit of unannounced herd immunity, the federal government is not entirely responsible. It was during the last meeting of the NCC that the leadership decided accordingly, which had the participation of four chief ministers as well. The provinces may blame the centre, nonetheless it is evident that after the 18th amendment they have all the powers at their disposal in case they want to impose a strict lockdown in order to give preference to saving lives.
Granted that livelihoods do matter. However at this tipping point, saving lives should have taken precedence over everything else. After all, economic recovery is a retrievable loss, while loss of lives is not.
Be that as it may, there was a need to strike a balance between the saving of livelihoods and lives. Common sense, medical experts’ warnings, and daily data on the infections unfortunately tell a sorry tale of impending danger where our health system may collapse because of the “smart lockdown” and assumption that people would follow the SoPs.
Those in power must reconsider the unannounced policy of herd immunity. At the very least, they must impose restrictions on large gatherings in markets and prayer areas. More aggressive precautionary measures should be taken, otherwise we are bound to repent as we do after every disaster.
The writer is freelance contributor and can be reached at [email protected]