Syed Tahir Rashdi
Novel pandemic COVID-19 an infectious disease first identified in December, 2019 at Wuhan city of China. According to UN it outbreak is probably the big challenge to entire world since two World Wars. So far 1,118, 202 people have been infected across the world and claimed 59, 220 lives. Countries around the world are implementing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, from national quarantines to school closure. More then third of the Planet’s population is under some form of restriction. Many countries have imposed Lockdowns due to this Pandemic. Pakistan reported its first coronavirus case on February 26. On Sunday, after over a month, the country’s tally stood at 2,696 according to the national database. More than 130 patients have recovered. It merits a mention here that the majority of Pakistan’s cases were the result of a recent visit to neighboring Iran, which is the worst-hit Asian country after China. Comparatively, the number of secondary transmissions is still very low.
The number of patients in Pakistan, by comparison, is nowhere near the tally in Iran and most of European countries. By and large, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has been successful in preventing the unconfined spread that, if happens, may prove disastrous for the world’s fifth most populous country which is already struggling with a teetering economy. Reservations have been expressed by both local and international media about the measures being taken by Khan, particularly his constant refusal to impose a national lockdown. The prime minister, who has addressed the nation twice about coronavirus, in addition to two live press briefings, has time and again justified his decision by saying that he fears the potential economic fallout of a lockdown.
“Pakistan’s [economic] situation is not the same as that of the U.S. or Europe. There is poverty in our country, with 25 percent of the population living in extreme poverty,” he said in his first national address after virus outbreak, observing that a national quarantine could result in the poor “dying from hunger.”
Numerically, Khan is right. With an economy as fragile and debt-ridden as Pakistan’s, the government cannot feed 220 million people for an incalculable period of time. The situation has already inflicted a loss of 30 billion Pakistani rupees (about $182 million) on the country’s economy. Economists believe the figure might soar to 1.3 trillion rupees, more than thrice the incumbent losses, or even more in the next few months, “If the situation doesn’t improve, or if we continue to impose lockdowns across the country.”
However, despite the aggravating situation, the government has announced a multi-trillion-rupee relief package, allocating 200 billion rupees for the labor class, in addition to calling on the private sector not to lay off laborers. Under the package, some 10 million people, categorized under low-income groups, will get a lump sum account, initially for a period of four months. The relief package comes in addition to safety measures being taken both at the federal and the provincial level, including setting-up of temporary hospitals and isolation centers to accommodate thousands of patients in case of a spike in cases. The Pakistani government has also suspended flight operations, both domestic and international, to restrict the possible introduction of new cases via travelers. Meanwhile, the provincial governments have imposed complete or partial lockdowns and announced additional relief packages for the poor. To implement the lockdown and other measures in letter and spirit, the provinces also requisitioned the military deployment, a decision that met with unnecessary criticism both at home and abroad.