EDITORIAL: Now that the government has deemed fit to reopen a number of public places, considering how the coronavirus situation has largely been brought under control, it is its duty to make sure that all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are duly explained in detail and disseminated publically. It is not enough that people should know what to do and how to behave now that public life is resuming, rather the state should make sure that everybody knows just what to do in every possible situation. A significant number of countries that took such steps earlier are now witnessing a second wave of the virus precisely because they acted in haste; without first making sure that everybody knew and understood the risks. The Eid holidays, which passed over the weekend, were supposed to provide valuable insights into how people's behaviour affects the overall trend. And even though the government initially thought that everybody had done a good enough job to lift the lockdown ahead of time, figures are now showing that the number of new infections did in fact increase over the holidays. This new trend has even led some doctors to fear of a possible second wave in Pakistan as well, despite all the efforts of the government. Clearly, just telling people what to do and expecting everybody to fall in line was asking a bit too much, and the government must do more going ahead. The least it can do is make sure all instructions about safety procedures are uploaded on its official website.
Given the circumstances, the last thing anybody needs right now is for the graph to rise steeply once again and put more pressure on hospitals than they can handle. That would, of course, require locking down the economy all over again, forcing the government to stitch together yet more relief packages and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to arrange more concessional funding for businesses so ordinary people can keep their jobs. No doubt people will rush to restaurants once they are open again, as well as to watch movies in cinema houses, but such places would require strict adherence to the most important safety protocols. The decision to reopen schools on September 15 will be taken on September 7, so schools have ample time to prepare SOPs of their own. People and parents, too, are understandably worried. On the one hand they cannot wait to return to their jobs and send their children to school so life can begin returning to normal, yet on the other they are fearful of bringing the virus into their homes.
The people also bear a great deal of the responsibility. The government can do all it can but if most people simply ignore all advice there is very little anybody can do about it at the end of the day except prepare to deal with the fallout. Sadly, TV programmes during Eid days showed people ignoring safety rules in public all the time. It should be clearly explained to the people at large and repeatedly emphasized that the reopening is basically for restoration of economic activity to protect and help livelihoods. Therefore, taking of all necessary precautions remains an imperative and shall be enforced. Pakistan must not only learn from its own mistakes but also from the mistakes of other countries. A number of them in North America and Western Europe were a little too eager to open up a month or so ago, but a lot of them were forced to shut down very quickly because they just could not control the spread of the virus anymore. The government has already experimented with telling people what to do. Now it must put everything in writing - from how to behave in cinemas, restaurants to religious shrines and public transport vehicles - and put it out there for everybody to see and spread. Pakistan has made great progress so far in the fight against the coronavirus. We started better than most countries, but then things quickly got out of control and we briefly became number 13 in the world in terms of number of infected persons, even though our testing capability was very limited compared to others that high on the list. Then we miraculously turned things around and got a grip on the situation. And now we are one of the very few countries in the world with such a success story to tell. This success should be protected and preserved at all costs. And all that is really needed is to make sure everybody understands how to protect it.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020