Coronavirus: Social Distancing Is Vital, No More Mixed Signals Please

Pakistan is an overcrowded, poor and sadly an uneducated nation, which might not be able sustain the best weapon of social distancing against the virus. This is the time to give clear and consistent message to the population, rather than confusing them with mixed signals, writes Dr Abdul Nadir.

“If I get corona, I get corona…at the end of the day, I am not going to stop me from partying”, said the shirtless Brady Slader, while partying at the Miami beach with his friends during the spring break, openly flouting the order of the Florida governor, who had imposed a ban on any gathering of more than 50 people in an attempt to arrest the marauding virus. Slader reflected the mood of the entire nation, marching fast-forward, not stepping back to reflect at the big picture. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this indulgence.

When Slader was taking a dip in the balmy waters of Miami, there were 218,000 cases of corona virus and only two weeks later April 2nd more than one million have been infected around the world.

Today, you can still purchase a round trip ticket to fly from Phoenix to Chicago for 58$ on Expedia.com, but who really wants to visit the deserted Lake Michigan or the erstwhile bustling Chicago downtown, which looks like a ghost town now. Airplanes, however, keep flying in the US, bringing only a handful of people on long haul flights, which typically would be oversold, flying dozens of times a day between popular destinations.

The never dying American spirit still wants to keep going, however, overconfidence gave way to denial and finally a surrender to the ghastly reality that social distancing with the enormous emotional and economic cost is the only weapon to fight against the rampaging virus.

2019 was the best year for the US economy. President Trump had the Midas touch with stock market having an unprecedented, un-interrupted run and unemployment at all-time low. No one could even fathom there will be a challenger to President Trump in 2020 presidential challenge.

Covid-19 swiftly changed that equation! Now the President, even though still enjoying favor among those supporters who are not well informed about the repeated blunders of the last two months, knows full well that his popularity may well take a hard dip as the virus keeps rampaging through the big cities of the United States of America. US is bracing for a very hard April and possibly beyond April when the number of deaths will continue to rise, and the economic wounds will be so deep that it may take months or even years to heal.

China controlled the menacing virus in three months. A single communist party took the unpopular steps that were needed for a complete lockdown, but the European and US democracies led by their charismatic leaders could not take the harsh steps they should have taken, despite having enough lead time to take action and stem the tide of the virus. Scientists repeatedly cautioned, but despite formidable logic backed by precise data, they could not convince their leaders, who actually ridiculed and even threatened them. The confident politicians in their moments of hubris overruled the scientists, who could only watch the deadly scene unfold right in front of them.

There is a lesson to be learned for the Pakistani government and opposition. This pandemic is a serious threat and this is no time to play politics. While the developed world, despite the blunders committed, has the wherewithal to stand back on its feet because of the enormous resources available, if Covid-19 really hits Pakistan, our country will not have a chance.

Pakistan is an overcrowded, poor and sadly an uneducated nation, which might not be able sustain the best weapon of social distancing against the virus. So far, Pakistan has done well and the virus is not growing as linearly as was predicted and it is certainly possible that with a cautious approach consisting of closure of the country, imposition of strong lockdowns in virus-prevalent areas and simultaneously opening up the country slowly, may still avert a disaster. This is the time to give clear and consistent message to the population, rather than confusing them with mixed signals.

The left-behind citizens of Pakistan need the government, opposition and well-to-do population to come together and hold their hands in these testing times.