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EDITORIAL: Surely, it’s a little odd that just two days after Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar warned of a possible fourth wave of the coronavirus sometime in July the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), which he heads, announced an incentive-based policy under which vaccinated people will be able to enjoy indoor dining, attend wedding ceremonies, and even visit cinemas and gyms. The worry about the fourth wave was no doubt caused by the expected rush in socialising and shopping ahead of Eidul Azha, which falls around 19-20 July, so perhaps it would have been a better idea to keep the breaks on for just a while longer; at least till Eid was behind us.

It’s a good thing that the country recorded fewer than 1,000 positive cases for three days in a row before this announcement, but opening the gates too soon, even if only for vaccinated people, risks rolling back all the gains at a time when progress against the third wave is very encouraging. There’s also the point that the responsibility of making sure that only vaccinated people are able to avail the new opportunities will rest entirely on the shoulders of the outlets that host them. Considering how even the government finds itself pretty helpless when people simply refuse to maintain safe distance and practically fall over each other even at places like vaccination centres, it’s not very difficult to ascertain just what kind of situations might develop at public places very soon.

Hopefully, this thinking was not forced by the need to get things rolling at full speed with the start of the new fiscal year because the government has only about a couple of months to impress the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the budget that so blatantly defied its contractionary structural adjustment mantra. It’s not as if the government needs to be reminded that the opportunity cost of such gambits is simply too high because the slightest mistake can indeed trigger the dreaded fourth wave and then there is no way the economy will recover in time to meet the Fund’s deadline. This is one of those situations where you can be right a hundred times, yet you need to be wrong only once to get wiped out.

These are not easy decisions and the government’s sense of urgency is quite understandable. It is also for the people, after all, not just its own chances at the next election, that it wants its expansionist budget to be a success. But it must also realise that pushing too fast too soon can cause its engine to overheat, and then what would become of all its plans? The NCOC should review its decision. The first wave got out of control just before Eidul Fitr last year precisely because the government was napping when it should have been busy keeping people far enough away from each other to keep the coronavirus from spreading. And one of the reasons that the second wave didn’t hit us so hard was that the government had enforced a strict freeze on all unnecessary movement around the next Eid.

With less than a month to go till the religious festival, it would have been better to err on the side of caution. Better safe than sorry, at the end of the day, yet if the government must go ahead with this incentive-based initiative then it must also devise a mechanism of ensuring that all the rules are followed by everybody all the time. Simply relying on restaurants and cinemas to police their customers might not be enough. Either way, the success or failure of this experiment will become clear soon enough.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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