People have been witnessing the unpleasant debate on definition of lockdown since the first few cases of COVID-19 in Pakistan. Sindh government went for complete lockdown in Karachi while Punjab, KPK, and Federal went on with Partial or Smart Lockdown Strategy. There has been little coverage of how these provinces are following the SOPs regarding COVID-19. After more than a month of this complete and partial lockdown, Sindh and Center are finally coming to terms with Federal government’s approach of Smart Lockdown Strategy which is a much needed approach in these testing times.
Center’s Reluctance to impose Complete Lockdown
On March 22, Prime Minister Imran Khan in a press conference announced that due to the current conditions in Pakistan, he is unwilling to go for a complete lockdown and requested masses to observe self-quarantine.
The message was received with great fury, political mudslinging and mistrust by opposition in Sindh, analysts and general masses. The reason is well understood though, everyone wanted their safety first and sought similar actions as taken by several developed and developing countries. The main idea behind federal government’s approach was however, to allow less risky businesses to remain open while affected areas should be sealed. Given the economic conditions of the country, a complete lockdown was bound to result in backfire in several aspects.
The analysis of federal government regarding the state of Pakistan’s economy and duration of this virus proved to be correct as month long lockdown resulted in loss of employment, increased agitation among masses and finally protests specifically in Sindh to reopen businesses.
Read More: Pakistan Massive Response to Corona Crises
This agitation against lockdown is not specific to Pakistan and is now observed even in the most developed nations like U.S.
Several countries including Germany, UK and USA are planning to relax lockdown from next week while the cases continue to increase at staggering rates.
One can only imagine the extent to which poor economies like Pakistan will suffer if complete lockdown is imposed beyond months. India is a great example to look at what can result in strict lockdown if implemented in Pakistan. Recognizing the limitation, center and chief ministers from provinces under PTI rule in Punjab and KPK and even Baluchistan went for partial lockdowns.
Center, Punjab and KPK using Smart Lockdown since March
The provincial wars highlighted on media failed to report the clear strategy of provinces and thus, remained unclear on how smart lockdown was done to carry out war against coronavirus. In Punjab and Center, governments started to seal specific lanes around the areas where COVID-19 positive cases were detected. There are three main steps that governments are using in smart lockdown where positive cases are detected: Sealing of limited area, Distribution of Ration in the area and Disinfection of Area.
On March 27, three areas including Shahzad Town and Rimsha Colony in H-9 Islamabad were sealed. Moreover, complete area of Bara Kahu was also sealed completely after 17 positive patients from Tableeghi Jamat were detected in the area. The District Commissioner immediately ordered distribution of ration and disinfection of affected areas.
Similarly, in Lahore three COVID-19 patients were picked up from Ferozewala and Iqbal Town on 26th March and immediately lanes in respective areas were sealed along with ration distribution by next day. The strategy has been continued till date with now small and less riskier businesses being allowed to re-open with new SOPs.
Pakistan can’t Afford Blanket Lockdown
Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security, in a meeting on Sunday highlighted that all provinces are now on board with the Federal government’s approach of smart lockdown in country.
Dr. Yusuf highlighted that Pakistan is increasing its testing capacity for COVID-19 to 20,000 tests per day by the end of April which will be extremely helpful in detecting areas where risk for the disease is higher. The government is now advising for random testing of people through mobile testing labs to collect as much data as possible regarding spread of virus and take necessary steps.
In order to successfully control the virus spread under smart lockdown strategy, it is of utmost importance to ensure data collection and tracking system. Few apps have already been launched to identify area wise risk level of coronavirus.
However, government now needs to develop a strategy for tracking each COVID-19 patient in order to continue with partial opening of the economy. With support of all provinces now, national strategies should be made to ensure that recent spike in number of patients can be controlled and both economy and healthcare can survive under the smart lockdown.