Coronavirus Lockdown in Pakistan – Are We Prepared?

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on 22nd March announced that they are not considering a complete lock down in the country and small businesses and daily wagers will continue to operate. At the same time, PM also requested the general masses to observe self-quarantine as imposing total lockdown will leave the poor workers including 25% of daily wagers, devastated.

Minutes after speech of PM Imran Khan, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah announced a total lockdown in Karachi starting from 12 am that day. The lock down is implemented across the province with help of armed forces and rangers and all businesses except for grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol pumps and basic services like gas, electricity and telecommunications are allowed to operate. Similarly, partial lock down is announced in Punjab, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as well.

While a complete lock down is what is needed around the globe to contain the spread of this deadly COVID-19 virus, economists, analysts and even World Health Organizations (WHO) are dubious about its effects on healthcare, economy and general law and order situation. Instead of resorting to making jabs at our PM and his decision to avoid complete lock down, we need to look objectively at the current situation Pakistan is in and analyze decisions in light of that.

An ideal lockdown situation in Pakistan – Not Possible?

Ideally, a complete lock down, as announced in Sindh, should immediately control local spread of the corona virus in Sindh and specifically densely populated city of Karachi. As evident in China, the Wuhan city lock down meant closure of all institutes, businesses, transport and even wandering in neighborhood with the exception of food and pharmaceutical supplies. Now looking at the lock down imposed on Sindh, already government has allowed all newspaper hawkers, media channels, utility companies for gas, electricity, telecommunications, banks and few others to continue operations. Moreover, while decision to keep food supplies and medicines open during the lock down are correct in avoiding food crisis and hoarding, the state of vegetable, fruits and meat vendors in Pakistan is nothing short of a disaster for spread of this virus.

Economic Support for Lockdown in Pakistan

When federal government conveys that our economy will not be able to handle a lockdown like China or other developed countries, they have concrete figures to support that. Pakistan’s GDP per capita is around $1482 while it is around $10,000 for China and $62794 and $57373 for USA and Australia respectively. Karachi alone contributes around 25% to GDP which means stall of businesses in Karachi can give major jitters to the country. However, even if we keep economy aside for a bit in this analysis, the scale of population that earns from the city is huge. Considering the number of daily wagers that come to city for meager wages and a day’s worth of living supplies, no support from government can cover a population so huge. The analysis when extended to the rest of population outside Sindh (around 170 million), will only magnify the economic impact on general population.

What is done in China cannot be replicated anywhere!

The Pakistani media, as usual, is blowing things out of proportion and mentioning things out of context for the general public by implying that countries around the globe are now going for China like lock down while Pakistan except Sindh is lagging behind. As a matter of fact no country has been able to implement complete lock down and partial lock downs are enforced on provincial levels. One of the major reasons a lot of countries including USA, UK and Australia are not opting for China like lock down is the imperial nature of curfew that was witnessed there. It is important to understand the history of communism in China that makes a curfew like this highly successful while countries with strong democracies like U.S. and U.K. can see a surge in national outrage against such actions.

As soon as curfew was announced in city of Wuhan, all entries and exists of the city were sealed, all schools, offices, private vehicles, deliveries were closed  including any intercity delivery of medicinal supplies, no exceptions! As days passed by, the citizens were not even allowed to come outside their houses and people were visited at homes for health checkups and were forced into isolation without any regard for members left at home (South China Morning Post, 2020). Moreover, the movement of all citizens of the Wuhan city was and is still monitored by the government to evaluate spread of virus and its rebound.

The brutal strategy adopted by China although, has been successful yet its implementation in any other country is not only impossible but can result in protests and riots among masses.  

Lockdown ALONE is not effective! WHO emphasizes

While we appreciate the gesture by provincial governments to contain the virus, analysts around the globe are stressing the notion that lockdown along is not effective in controlling the virus and there is a series of steps that needs to be taken by governments during the lockdown period. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed at a recent press conference. “Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.”

Additionally, a more grave concern for lockdown in Pakistan is the lack of healthcare facilities in Pakistan. The lockdown period is supposed to be taken as a time to drastically improve the healthcare system to increase effectiveness of handling sick people. WHO representative, Dr. Mike Ryan in an interview warned, “The danger right now with the lockdowns … if we don’t put in place the strong public health measures now, when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up.”

We are already witnessing the results of lockdown in countries like USA, France and UK where alarming rates of cases have surged in past 24 hours. The death rate in China till now is around 4%, while in countries like USA it is currently 72% based on closed cases and around 60% in Canada.

Is Pakistan ready for post lockdown situation?

The focus of whole federal-provincial disappointing fiasco in Pakistan is about who is going for a complete lockdown, apparently assumed to be a life saver for gullible citizens. However, the people need to understand that while forcing lockdown is easy initially, the after-effects of such lockdowns can be devastating for the country if necessary steps are not taken on time. Some of the issues we fear that can emerge in coming days include

  • Protests on streets

A full lockdown in city like Karachi or Lahore is going to affect daily wagers who live on meager earnings and even though current situation has already affected their income, an immediate use of force to completely disallow them to work will result in more poverty and hunger. It is hard to imagine how any provincial or federal government in Pakistan will be able to trace every individual to feed them and thus, we foresee many protests in coming days against the lockdown.

  • Rise in daily crimes and burglaries

A recent news in CNN disclosed major spikes (222% increase in transactions) in purchase of guns and bullets in major states of USA including California, Oklahoma and pictures of long lines outside gun stores are being shared.

This alone can describe the magnitude of crimes that we can see in city like Karachi that is already afflicted with daily gun related crimes. Imagine a major spike in unemployment and hunger among masses and hoarding by privileged citizens and disaster is all you can picture. A partial lockdown on the other hand, can have far less effect on working class and businesses.

  • Increased lay-offs by small businesses

The federal government today held a meeting with small and large businessmen with Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh chairing the meeting (Associated Press of Pakistan, 2020). The federal government seek proposals from the business community to help them retain and pay the daily and low income wagers and provide them assistance to be able to continue business without permanent setback to economy. Several companies are now being reported for major lay-offs in fear of complete industry shut-down. Since a two week lockdown won’t be enough to contain cases in Pakistan and will require additional weeks of lockdown to buy time, a complete lockdown can seriously prove to be a permanent dent in economy.

How to Manage the Lockdown in Pakistan?

Since the country is already in partial lockdown as declared by Sindh, Punjab, KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan, there are several steps needed to be taken by government and affluent citizens. In order to avoid going towards complete lockdown or curfew, these steps should be taken starting now:

  • Make the quarantine and isolation centers clean! A major reason why a lot of people are hesitant in showing their illness is fear of being placed in poorly managed centers by governments. The priority of government should be to turn as many buildings, hostels and even small hotels into quarantine centers as possible to be able to receive and manage any spikes in cases.
  • Time to stock up all required supplies –The government should acquire maximum safety gears, medicines and other supplies for managing patients during this time. The PM task force under Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman has already called for prototype testing of Indigenously Developed Ventilators to immediately start mass production to meet national requirement.
  • Focus on clear messages on media – The news are currently only creating panic in general public regarding lock down and there is an urgent need for transforming violent newscast into information dissemination source. For instance, instead of saying city is lock down, tell masses that they can go out for groceries and medicines once a day.
  • Guidance for Self-Quarantine – Since the lock down is still partial, every earning member of the family who goes out carries the risk of bringing virus home and thus, it is absolutely necessary for common masses to understand how self-quarantine is done in case they have any symptoms. Simple visual demonstration of how to prepare separate area for quarantine at home and what essential medicines and supplies are needed should be communicated.
  • A government level ration distribution center needs to be formed immediately as a bridge between government and ministers and councilors who can coordinate the needs of poor people in their respective areas. Individual efforts for ration distribution will never be enough to tackle the giant of economic crisis that is our way.
  • Clarify what social distancing means – Display the concept through animated clips to inform majority of population that cannot understand English. Recently, KPK police has launched an awareness campaign on TV and social media that has targeted the uneducated masses in country and has aimed at creating awareness regarding Corona virus. Similar attempts should be made by other provinces.

There is a lot more than we are thinking right now that should be done in this two weeks period to prepare ourselves for the coming avalanche of cases. Instead of political scores, it is high time that both federal and provincial governments work and plan for dealing the outcomes of this shutdown.

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