LIVING with Covid 19 seems to be the new
normal. The obvious reason for this re-think
ing is the realization by even the richest countries that they could not afford to shut their economies for an indefinite period which was fraught with serious economic and social consequences for their societies. Prime Minister Imran Khan right from the beginning has been pointing out this reality and opposing a complete lockdown in the country, justifiably maintaining that with 25% people living below the poverty line and the economy in doldrums it was not a feasible option. Nevertheless, the government did not lag behind in evolving different strategies aimed at containment of the virus and providing relief to the affected segments of the society by unleashing different initiative under the Ehsas programme within the available resources. He rightly advocated that the challenge needed to be tackled collectively by the international community and the affluent nations must write off the loans of the poor countries to provide them the fiscal space to defray the expenses on expansion in their health systems and keeping their economies running. Addressing the online session of the World Economic forum he again urged the developed countries to provide debt relief to poorer nations struggling to cope with the economic virus crisis. He said “The bigger challenge in our country is how to mitigate the effects of lockdown on our population with rising poverty. We have 25 million workers who either are daily wagers or get paid weekly or are self-employed. When we imposed lockdown like the whole of the world to stop the spread of the virus all these people became unemployed. It in fact affected 25 million families. We launched a cash programme and reached nearly 15 million families with cash transfers but this is only a short-term solution”.
It is indeed hard to take an issue with what he has been saying and has told the world through the World Economic Forum. A debate has been raging in our country on the adequacy or otherwise of the response strategy evolved by the government and those throwing flak at it have been stressing giving more attention to saving human lives than resurrection of the economy i.e enforcing strict lockdown. I think their motivation stemmed more from the propensity to have a dig at the government rather than evaluating the situation in view of the ground realities and social conditions. The realistic response was creating a balance between the two objectives and that is what the government has been trying to do. No doubt saving human lives ought to be the top priority because they are priceless. But it also takes resources to accomplish that task. The question the critics needed to ask themselves was can Pakistan with its economy showing the lowest ever growth rate in the last 62 years and a big chunk of population languishing at below the poverty line could afford a complete lockdown? The fact is that the adoption of that approach could have led to a riotous situation. Pakistan could not bear the stress of even selective lockdowns. The government decision to ease the lockdown despite rising cases of corona virus was very much in conformity with the ground realities and the economic and social compulsions dictated by them. The WHO has warned that the people of the world may have to live with Covid 19 for a long time finding a new normal way of living. After the ravages triggered by the corona virus the life will never be the same. The acceptance of this reality is the only way forward and the people will have to learn to adapt to the new realities. The Prime Minister stands vindicated regarding his realistic approach in dealing with the corona virus and unfurling necessity-driven initiatives in that regard. He rightly felt that the way forward was to realize that we as a nation had to live with the virus at least until a vaccine to treat and prevent the pandemic came available..
By opening up different sectors of the economy and allowing business activity to resume, the government has undoubtedly put its faith in responsible behavior of the masses and observance of the SOPs as well as the norms of social distancing. Much will now surely depend on the behaviour of the people in checking the spread of the virus while the government grapples with expansion in the health facilities and procurement of the equipment and medical supplies required to treat the virus affected persons. No policy of the government can produce desired results without cooperation and backing of the people. But the dilemma is that the scenes in our markets and shopping areas do not present an encouraging spectacle. People are seen flouting the SOPs and social distancing not realizing that it could not only imperil their own lives but also scuttle the government efforts to effectively deal with the permeating situation. It is indeed alarming to note that there has been an exponential increase in the corona affected cases since the government relaxed the lockdown. According to Dr Zafar Mirza 92% of the new cases relate to local transmission. Therefore the people need to show more discipline in their own and country’s interest. Corona virus is an unprecedented and the most formidable challenge of the century. It must be taken with the seriousness that it demands. People must say adieu to their nonchalant attitude to sustain the efforts of the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.