Towards ‘smart lockdown’

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AS doctors and the World Health Organization (WHO) persist in their recommendation that the authorities should go for total and stricter lockdown to effectively check the spread of the highly contagious Coronavirus, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday insisted on his previous position of selected lockdown of affected areas by announcing that his Government was considering the option of imposing a smart lockdown in the country to achieve the twin objectives of providing relief to the working class, daily wagers and lower middle class segments of the society and protecting the masses from the virus. Speaking at the Ehsaas Telethon, he said imposition of a balanced and smart lockdown on the pattern of the Western countries would be an effective and viable option under the prevailing situation.
The announcement of the Prime Minister came as for the second day on Thursday senior doctors tried to sensitize the Government about the emerging situation which has been described as grave by them in view of quantum jump in daily infections and rising number of deaths caused by COVID-19. Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) was joined by WHO in urging the Government to go for complete lockdown to avoid a catastrophic situation in the country. The PMA particularly appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who has taken a suo motu notice regarding measures taken to curb the pandemic, to ask the Government to review its recent decision taken in consultation with Ulema to allow congregational prayers in mosques during the holy month of Ramazan. The apprehensions of doctors are not unfounded as these are also shared by the UN health watchdog WHO, which said on Thursday that the number of Coronavirus cases in Pakistan can rise to an estimated 200,000 by mid-July if ‘effective interventions’ are not taken. Doctors have fulfilled their duty as responsible professionals by conveying their apprehensions, based on ground realities, to the authorities concerned but unfortunately they are being treated like the opposition. This tendency of playing politics with a deadly disease is likely to ‘push the country into a test it is not prepared for’, as aptly remarked by PMA President Dr Ashraf Nizami. We commend the Sindh Government that, like before, has moved quickly in announcing that Taraweeh prayers in the province will be limited to 3-5 people from the mosque administration as was already decided in the case of daily five-time prayers. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also clarified that his government’s decision to restrict Taraweeh prayers does not deviate from the agreement reached between the federal government and Ulema about congregational prayers in mosques, adding that the understanding allowed the provincial governments to change the decision “if the situation appears to be worsening”.
The decision is realistic in view of fast increasing number of infections in the province and shrinking ability of the medical institutions to handle the additional patients. Federal and other provincial governments ought to follow the saner course adopted by the Sindh Government, otherwise they would soon find themselves in a chaotic situation. There should be no hasty or premature opening of businesses and different sectors and we should emulate the policy being pursued by Saudi Arabia as far as offering of congregational prayers is concerned. If restrictions are in place and curfews can be imposed in the Islam’s holiest places of Makkah Mukarramah and Madina Munawwara, there is no justification to allow decisions here to be influenced by whims of some powerful lobbies endangering life of the people. We must also appreciate that Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah visits instantly and even holding of Hajj is contingent upon the evolving situation. The concept of social distancing is being implemented religiously even by those countries whose population is sparse and there are real risks involved for a highly populous country like Pakistan if it erred in its judgement and failed to take necessary and timely measures. We would, therefore, urge the Government to review its policy and enforce all aspects of social distancing to avoid prolongation of the woes of the people. In case the Government finds it hard to review its strategy for political or other considerations, then it is hoped that the apex court would expedite hearing of the suo motu case and issue clear guidelines to the authorities in this regard.

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