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EDITORIAL: It is no mean achievement that Pakistan has now recorded the lowest Covid-19 deaths in three months. According to the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza, the country witnessed a peak of 153 Covid-19 deaths on June 20, and the number had now come down to 20. And though he could have used more diverse statistics to further break down the trend, it is pretty clear that both new infections and deaths are now occurring at a much slower pace than before, and the all-important curve is indeed taking a downward turn. The Punjab government also reported zero deaths for the first time in two months, since May 26, just the other day. All this seems even more impressive considering that internationally the virus is still pretty much on the ascent. The United States of America (USA) is still struggling with reopening the economy as the high number of new cases and deaths forces state after state to re-employ temporary shutdowns, which does not favour to the world's largest economy. At the same time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is fearing that yet another serious wave is about to sweep through Europe shortly. And coronavirus cases in Latin America have for the first time surpassed the combined number of infections in the United States and Canada, according to a Reuters investigation.

And it's not as if the situation in the neighbourhood is much better. The Iranian government has just announced that its medical staff is completely exhausted and pleaded with the people to follow safety rules and help themselves. India is still collecting the pieces from its initial sudden lockdown, which left millions of workers suddenly without food, shelter and transport and the infection multiplied all the way as they were forced to walk hundreds of miles back to their homes. And even China, the world's second largest economy and one of the countries that are working the hardest to develop a vaccine, is encountering repeated breakouts which sometimes still forces temporary closure of entire cities. Prime minister Imran Khan's team, which was widely criticised when it first opted for the smart lockdown idea, is now more than justified in giving itself a pat on the back, especially since the world is also taking notice of their achievement. Germany, for example, is impressed enough by the government's efforts to overcome the socio-economic impact of the virus that it is making available 0.5 million euros to help at the local level.

All that needs to be done now, as the government would understand very well, is to keep the eye on the ball. The government's performance in handling the coronavirus has clearly been praiseworthy, but all that has been achieved could be lost if all the care in the world is still not taken. The upcoming Eid holidays will tell a lot. Pakistan did not have much of an aggressive spread of the coronavirus to begin with either, but it became a very big problem when people simply ignored all safety and distancing rules at the time of last Eid some months ago. This time the government has gone the extra mile by not just warning about the effects of not acting responsibly, but also enforcing smart lockdowns one more time to keep a minimum amount of people out and about at any time. After Eid will come the holy month of Muharram, in which too devotees themselves will have to make sure that they don't just protect themselves, but also others and, in that way, the whole country. The fight against the coronavirus will still be a long one. So far Pakistan has displayed the wisdom of handling it in just the right manner, which has brought it a degree of success in that fight. But so far it is a very fragile success and it must be protected at all costs. It would be simply a shame for even a few people to violate the rules and spread the infection and before you know it the whole system could be on its knees again. At stake is not just numbers that make countries look good or bad, but an economy that must keep running, a medical system that needs to be kept from collapsing and millions of lives that must be protected.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020