Lockdown, mini-lockdown, smart lockdown, no lockdown. It seems Pakistan has tried everything. Right now, the country is neck deep into what the government is calling a smart lockdown where the government has identified localities which have been closed for contact. Travel outside these zones is restricted and many areas are under curfew. The National Command Operation Center (NCOC) together with the National Information Technology Board (NITB) are using locations data to map out high risk areas to close down these zones. Visibly, daily cases have come down as well.
But what remains a mystery is across provinces, mobility has revived, rather than declined. Granted, the Google Mobility data is restricted given it only monitors and records those data points which are collected from consumers’ smartphones that have location services on during movement. Given the low smartphone penetration across Pakistan, the mobility data might not be representative of the entire population. However, it does provide indicators. Just looking at mobility across provinces, after a burst of mobility during Eid holidays, movement declined slightly only to recover end of May and since then has maintained a similar trajectory.
Notably, mobility in Sindh has been the lowest, followed by Punjab, KP and then Baluchistan. The number of cases and the growth in daily cases have also followed a similar ranking. However, even as movement of people has increased (or remained about the same for the past three to four weeks) at workplaces, grocery and pharmacy spots, and retail and recreation centers, daily cases have started to decline. Perhaps, smart lockdown is working but not depicting in movement data. Since mobility is restricted across specific radiuses or hotspots while the rest of the towns carry on, total mobility may be averaging out the activity. That seems less likely.
The other possibility of course is the restrictiveness of the data itself—perhaps the mobility data is being picked from smartphones that are not within the lockdown peripheries. This is likely. But anecdotal evidence suggests that more people are now out of their houses than were during the period before Eid. Public transport has resumed, shops have reopened, and transport in cities is back to its pre-Covid glories signified by traffic jams and the like.
Another possibility here—which is by far the most optimistic of all—is that that despite people going back to their workplaces, and out of their houses to buy groceries and medicines, they are being more careful in terms of wearing masks and maintaining physical distance that may have reduced the spread. Let’s hope one of these possibilities has some semblance of truth, because the alternative that the positive cases might actually be going unreported, or underreported is a troubling proposition.