Capitalisation of COVID-19

Dr Maria Saifuddin Effendi
While it locked the entire world, COVID-19 came with a little different face in Pakistan. Pakistan has
been a resilient country, went through numerous nerve-wrecking crises since 1947. It stood firm on both
internal and external fronts including political, ethnic, religious/sectarian violence, economic
depreciation, military operations in different parts of the country to eradicate terrorism, uneasy borders
with India, Afghanistan and Iran, the love-hate relationship with the US etc. Like any other developing
country, Pakistan also confronted human security threats such as pandemics, earthquakes, floods,
internal displacement of people, economic migrations, sheltering refugees from conflict zones, meagre
resources, unskilled youth bulge etc. COVID-19 has revealed many dimensions about the pandemic, our
response, collective and individual behaviour. It helped us know the vulnerable state of health and
medical facilities for a national emergency. It has unfolded and reiterated both our strengths and
weaknesses. Strengths such as our comparatively better immunity level to struggle with COVID-19 or
perhaps our ever-lauded resilience to get through any crisis under the sun. An overpopulated country
where 29.5% people live below the poverty line, according to a report of Ministry of Planning and
Development, we could have expected a lot more rapid spread of the virus in March, but we didn’t due
to our comparatively better immunity and a well-observed lockdown till April. Besides tougher
circumstances, there is continuous capitalisation of COVID-19 in Pakistan. ‘Capitalisation’ may be a hard
word but may be categorised as political, economic, socio-cultural and religious capitalism of COVID-19.
Political capitalism is mostly seen in the non-coordination between the centre and provinces, especially
Sindh. There’s a clear divide between Sindh and the Centre over preventive mechanisms since March.
Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah emphasised that he would not let his people die of corona; there
were political parties, traders and business community that refused the idea of a complete lockdown.
The Centre was also hesitant initially on this decision. Economic and social capitalisation explains our
individual and collective behaviour. We were quarantined at home for nearly 3 months and when eased
down before Eid in late May 2020, Pakistan had around PKR 560 billion of Eid shopping spree, which is
not that bad compared with PKR 800 billion spent in 2019’s Eid. It has helped traders and industries yet
infected people. Corona patients are doubled to 100,000 exactly two weeks after Eid. With the
pandemic beginning, various pharmaceutical/grocery stores hoarded and sold hygiene products at
double the price. Similarly, clothing brands have started designing protective masks, matching the fabric
of the dress (women’s wear). From gradual infections to the peak of the crisis, many fashion designers
donated protective gears/masks to medical professionals. As the pandemic is becoming the new normal;

designing protective gears, fancy face masks, perfumed sanitisers etc. will be future investment in the
textile, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Socio-cultural/religious capitalisation lies in our
perceptive world with our behaviour, rooted inherently, culturally and religiously. The government’s
SOPs on closing mosques were violated during Ramzan because many considered coronavirus God’s call
to return to ‘Siraat e Mustaqeem’ (right path). Iftaar/Eid parties, Taraweehs, Eid prayers doubled the
casualties and displayed our selfish ignorant behaviour at the national level. Low income (Pashtoon,
Siraiki, Punjabi) migrant groups were caught travelling back to their native towns during the lockdown
and hence pandemic was ethnicised as well. COVID was sectarianised with the reference for pilgrims
from Iran and people of Tableeghi Jamaats who spread the virus in closer areas. COVID-19 is affecting
everyone, transforming lives with uncertain physical, social, economic and psychological impact. A
million-dollar question remains how to tackle the capitalisation of COVID-19 in Pakistan. The pandemic
is one threat; developing a coherent collective action and national consensus to manage it is a bigger
challenge than the disease itself. Pakistan lacks coherent and collective action to manage the COVID
crisis. It has introduced various SOPs to create awareness on the prevention through electronic, print,
telecommunication and social media. Imposed strict and smart lockdowns; it has helped daily wagers
through ‘Ehsaas programme’. The three components of ‘Conflict Transformation’ to transform negative
energies of a conflict into positive ones, has been adopted quite fairly; awareness,
campaigning/advocacy and implementation (of a strategy). Yet, it could not bring the desired results.
The reason is simple; persistent political mistrust and differences impacted the national plan to avert
COVID-19. There are differing positions between the federal and provincial governments. Not only that,
there is a clearly drawn line between the statements of the Chief Minister (from PPP) and Governor (PTI)
in Sindh on the issue of lockdown, medical facilities, factual details about the hospital capacity but also
the top hierarchy of PPP seems having acute differences against the national position on COVID-19
management. COVID-19 is a war-like situation. It cannot be handled with a politically divisive modus
operandi. Political leaders need to forego their differences and act as a united force to manage it with

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