Challenge and response

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MALIK ASHRAF
NEEDLESS to emphasize that Corona pandemic arguably is the biggest chal lenge of the century confronting the global community and fight against its ravages requires united response premised on purely humanitarian considerations. It is an evolving crisis and nobody can predict how long it will take it to subside and how many lives it would have consumed by then. The worrying factor is that no vaccine against the virus is readily available and though efforts are underway to develop it but the medical scientists and expert believe it would take one to one and half years before it could be developed and made available globally to cure the afflicted people. However, there is a consensus on prevention of its spread through social distancing and making sure that the movement of the citizens was restricted to the extent of maximum possible keeping in view the permeating situation.While China successfully contained it through complete lockdowns in the affected cities, other countries are also practising partial and complete lockdowns and strict social distancing in the light of their peculiar situations. While the developed countries due to their economic strength and their extensive health paraphernalia are better equipped to deal with the economic and social impact of the pandemic, the developing and poor countries will be the ones which will be more affected by the devastation wrought by the pathogen. That necessitates global cooperation with greater focus on medical and financial assistance to the developing nations. As far as Pakistan is concerned though at the moment the problem is not as severe as in other countries but with more and more cases of Corona Virus coming forth every day there is an imperative need to gear up our efforts to deal with the prospective precipitation of the challenge. In this regard it is heartening to note that the government is exhibiting unflinching determination and commitment to make sure that it is well prepared to deal with any such eventuality. Chairman NDMA revealed at a press conference that the quarantine facility has been enhanced from 5000 to 162,000 beds and the Command and Control Centre of the organization has also booked 1795 hotels where 40,000 patients can be accommodated. Our time-tested friend China besides providing assistance amounting to $4 million to build a hospital has also sent a medical team comprising experts to provide technical assistance and sharing knowledge with the Pakistani doctors in regards to dealing with the deadly disease. The team has also brought medical equipment from China to strengthen our capacity. Help is also pouring in from private sources in China with Ali Baba Foundation having already donated 50,000 test kits and half a million masks. Chinese assistance to Pakistan also includes twelve thousand test kits, 3000000 masks, 10000 protective units.According to Chairman NDMA 30000 protective kits for medical staff working in the ICU are also coming from China and soon would be made available to all medical staff working at the ICUs. He further revealed that Xinjiang Government is also sending some equipment through Khunjerab border to meet needs of Gilgit-Baltistan for next couple of weeks. Pakistan will also receive from China a huge walk-through testing machine which will carry out mass screening of people in places where individual tests may not be possible. Pakistan is also procuring ventilators from China and by 25 April it will have received 2000 of them. The number could increase to 8000-10000 by end of May besides other supplies which have already started arriving in the country. It is also satisfying to note that the government while imposing lockdown throughout the country has made sure that the hardships of the people are minimized to the possible extent. In this regard it has allowed the goods transport to ply to make ensure that the supply of essential food items was not disrupted. It has also very wisely announced a stimulus and relief package of Rs 1200 billion to mitigate the economic impact of the virus and providing relieftothemasses, particularlyto dailywagers by providinga stipend ofRs.3000 permonth. It hasalso reduced petroleum prices and a relief package through Utility Stores Corporation.All these measures are surely going to have an overall mitigating impact. The Prime Minister is personally supervising and evaluating the situation ona daily basisandtheCommandandControlCentreatNDAMisalso keepinganyeye ontheevolving situationand firming up required responses. The governmentisalsocontemplatingto devisea strategyto provide foodtothepeopleattheirdoor-stepsincasethe situationwarrants further strictlockdownsorcurfew.Howeverthe PrimeMinister has adopted a very realistic approachin not going for a complete shut-down rightly fearingthatit would create greater hardship for the poor sections of the society and more people could starve to death than becoming victim ofthe deadly virus.Those elementswhich are criticizingthe government efforts and sayingthat ithadmadeabelatedmovetodealwiththeemergingsituationarenotbeing realisticaboutthesituation.Theyneed to rememberthatthis viruscaughtthewholeworld unpreparedandeventhemost developedcountriesare finding it difficultto handlethe situation. Itis pertinentto point outthat efforts ofthe government can succeed only when the people fully understandthe seriousness ofthe problem and cooperate.There are reportsthatin certain parts of the country people are not practising the required social distancing. It can prove very dangerous and scuttle the efforts of the government to effectively prevent the spread of the disease. People as responsible citizens must strictly follow the preventive measures and practice social distancing in their own and country’s interest. — The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.