ARTICLE: Follow the curve. Spikes. Resurge. Flattening. RO rate. These are probably the most searched and discussed topics globally. The mysterious virus is still baffling but less enigmatic. Research and science are making some sense of the senseless literature that flooded the information highway in the beginning of the year. Articles, papers and models created traffic jam on this highway disabling the net and overloaded human mind. As countries realized that like most viruses it is there to stay and there are no solutions in the near future, what we need to do is to learn to manage living safely yet viably to keep the world going.
Predictions and forecasts have proven inaccurate in many instances. While the fear that the poorer countries will fare poorly in managing this difficult combination is still there, the inept management of the richer countries has made the task more complicated. Direct comparisons with other countries have become difficult as the geo-demographics, economics and also the politics makes it very difficult to form comparable analysis. While Far Eastern countries have managed to contain it better, the European countries are now experimenting with opening the economies as the curve goes down. North and South America are still struggling to sustain the flattening of the curve.
Countries are also now planning and preparing for surge, second waves and cluster spikes. South Asian countries have had variable experiences. While virus infectivity started end February as travelers brought infection into these countries, learning from other countries they imposed lockdown relatively early. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had a slow curve rise for a couple of months but different lockdown strategies. Pakistan's lockdown was phased out in the second month. In the first month, the Pakistani government ran the biggest emergency cash programme to subsidize the huge unemployed labour class. India on the other hand put in a strict lockdown. Unfortunately, it resulted in mass unemployment of labour class which came on the streets in an effort to rush back to their rural homes causing virus spread and a tragic stampede.
The government knowing the fragile state of the economy decided on adopting smart lockdown. That meant identifying high infectivity areas and locking them down to contain the virus while opening up economy and industry with adherence to safety guidelines. India, meanwhile, adopted curfew in many of its states to stop the labour exodus. This resulted in confrontations with the police resulting in some tragic deaths. In Ramazan (May), which is a low activity month and the virus numbers turned out to be less than projected in Pakistan. Somehow this created a false sense of complacency in the public. The government hard pressed by the economic shutdown and the resultant unemployment decided to reopen the markets for Eid to get some economic boost. Eid is the highest sale time for small and medium enterprises. People locked down for months just thronged markets as if out of forced imprisonment. Scenes of jostling, pushing, shop queuing, tightly packed human bodies made the virus spread spike dangerously. Also due to the false sense of complacency that our numbers are much less than West and maybe some inbuilt resistance is in our biology, the more affluent, threw EId Milan parties with gay abandon. This resulted in a nightmarish spike where cases from 2000 per day jumped to almost 7000 per day in June.
Shocked by this mass disease virality people shifted back into safe distancing. The government started punishing and closing non-compliant markets, masks became mandatory, and families went back to keeping to themselves. This helped in arresting the spiral. While the government's own projections were that by the end of June the infections will rise to over 300,000, they ended up with one hundred thousand less. They also expecting that in July it will be around 400,000. All of this depends on one major factor, i.e., Eid expected at the end of July. That is why the last week or so of July needs extra caution, planning and pre-emption. The following are some essentials for preventing a reoccurrence of what happened last Eid:
1 Government Actions - The government needs to do more data mining. The strategy of Smart Lockdown seems to have worked as infection rates decreased in high prevalence areas. However, data gathering needs more tech savviness. The trend to get tested on any symptom has decreased as people have started doing self-isolation emulating the west. The government cannot do house-to-house testing. What they have done and should increase is the scale of smart sampling. This should include market areas as well as high risk residential areas. All such areas should be strictly locked down. Another important action is penalizing shops, offices and individuals not wearing masks. The policy of "No mask, no service" must be made mandatory with videos of shops who are and those who are not adhering to be made public to create public pressure.
2 Curtail Eid Buying Sprees - The spike in June happened in those fatal four days before Eid that shops were opened and people went on a buying rampage. What the government and shops need to do is to proactively announce Eid offers the whole month of July as unlike last Eid the shops are open and they need to space out their buying needs in a more normal distant and safe fashion. Also the home delivery model of food panda needs to be emulated by garment manufacturers as well. On line selling is picking up and should make Eid Buying a more rational event. This Eid has another problem. Goat buying. While the government has announced markets to be placed outside cities, if online orders and delivery of cut meat is scaled up it would reduce the rush.
3 Social Activism on Eid Behavioural Change - Lastly public needs to take the responsibility to educate each other and their families too. Eid Milan parties of last Eid should be strictly limited to household members who live with each other. They need to realize and politely refuse visitors and restrict their own outings in places where social distancing is a problem.
The fact of the matter is the virus loves company. Festivals are ideal occasions for family and friends company. People must make the choice of giving the virus the company/ crowd it loves to infect or deprive it of this opportunity. This just requires staying safe and peaceful with their immediate loved ones in their respective households. A choice that could keep them healthy as well as save many precious lives.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020