Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar's concern over the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, and the government's decision to impose "smart mini-lockdowns" in parts of Islamabad, Karachi and Azad Kashmir, only confirms what was widely expected because the virus has been on something of an uptrend since at least the beginning of October. It turns out that Covid-19's average positivity ratio, which measures the direction of the trend, had been under the crucial two percent barrier for six straight weeks, till last week when it suddenly shot past it. Since the planning minister also heads the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), and understands the worry all this must cause the government, he's right to make some noise about it now so the trend can be arrested before it gets any stronger. Already the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) has confirmed increased positive cases in doctors and other support staff even though everybody has been directed to follow all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) very strictly. This is one of the biggest problems that a potential second wave can bring. Doctors falling sick and dying not only adds to overall cases but also, far more importantly, reduces the number of people that can help treat the increasing number of sick. Pakistan's healthcare facilities came under immense pressure, and indeed came close to being incapacitated, when the virus was at its peak a few months ago and are in no position to withstand another round.
The minister was also correct to point out that while the administration had already been directed to ensure implementation of protective measures across the country, there was simply no possibility of success without the cooperation of the public. Sadly most people have behaved rather irresponsibly ever since the lockdown was lifted, even though the government kept reminding them that the worst was by no means behind us just yet. And it says something about us as a nation that we were able to contain the virus like few other countries in the whole world - a remarkable feat by any standards -yet already run the risk of compromising all the gains simply because too many people continue to flout all the important rules. The situation is the same everywhere, whether you go to markets, restaurants or schools, so the government will have to find effective checks and monitoring systems to ensure that at least the more crowded places do not become hotspots.
Sadly, a political angle is also beginning to emerge. The virus has staged a comeback, forcing the government to warn about all its possible ramifications of course, just when the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is all set to go ahead with its public rallies. That perhaps made it convenient for about half a dozen federal ministers to advise the opposition to put off the rallies till the threat from the virus recedes. Some of them also warned of strict action if safety rules are violated at any time. And considering that a very large number of people are expected to participate in these outings, and the fact that some rules are bound to be broken at some point, and of course the charged atmosphere, hopefully this matter will not be made any uglier than it has to be. The government must not over-react, especially since any such action is sure to bring out even bigger protesting crowds all over the roads. Still, nothing can help spread this deadly virus across the length and breadth of society like large public gatherings, so the responsibility of ensuring safety lies with opposition parties and they must understand that even the slightest negligence is unacceptable as well as unforgivable in the present circumstances.
The government's impressive control of the virus over the last few months, which enabled the economy to reopen earlier than in other countries, has quite literally been the only bit of good news that the public has been treated to in quite a while. People were exhausted and fed up with rising inflation and unemployment, a sagging economy, and a struggling government since before the pandemic. And the good news about how the country has done so far only barely hides the deep economic and financial trauma that families across Pakistan have had to suffer, just like everywhere else, since March. The worst thing we can do now is waste all the gains. And everybody, whether government, opposition, worker or average Joe, will have to play an important part.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020