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EDITORIAL: It turns out, just as feared, that decision-makers at the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) were a little too hasty in lifting most Covid-19 restrictions because people rushed to restaurants, shrines, weddings, etc., like bees to honey and the positivity ratio shot right past a thousand cases a day once again in just a few days. Now they are threatening to re-impose lockdowns if the numbers don't somehow get better over the next week or so. That naturally begs the question of what exactly they are waiting to see.

A lot of people warned them, this space included, that it was a bad idea to make managements of cinemas and wedding halls responsible for policing their clients. Nobody checked for vaccinations, or even tried to enforce safety rules like social distancing and wearing masks, which is no surprise. And waiting a few more days is more likely to make the spread worse than improve it, so might as well accept the mistake and go back to the lockdown immediately till Eidul Azha passes at least.

Surely, the government understands very well that if ever time was of the essence, it is now because if the fourth wave of the virus really materialises then in addition to adding to the number of sick and dead it will also deliver the kiss of death to all the plans to grow the economy out of all its troubles. All those subsidies and tax breaks would do manufacturing and industry little good if most people who leave their homes for work end up in hospitals. It would have been better if the NCOC had waited just a little longer, after having done so well to contain the third wave, before green-lighting the return to normalcy. It just beggars belief that they opened up so close to Eidul Azha, which is when they should have been on their toes even if there hadn't been a third wave.

It is also a shame that these trends only confirm that Pakistanis have learnt very little by way of how and when it becomes every individual's duty to play his/her part for everybody's good, including their own, even this long into the pandemic. For whenever we are allowed the slightest freedom most of us openly disregard Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) even though all of us know how important they are. People have been literally falling all over each other at marketplaces and restaurants over the last few days and most Pakistanis don't seem even remotely interested in keeping all of us safe from the deadly virus. Such things mean that NCOC's task is that much more difficult than one would imagine, that is why it is expected to go the extra mile to ensure public safety. Right now that means shutting down, though smartly, once again, and it should do it without any further delay.

It should, however, let students who have finally been allowed to take their exams still go to their schools for the few more days that they need to. Education has emerged as one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic, especially in the third world, and it might take at least a generation to get back to the pre-pandemic levels of school enrollment. This, perhaps, is one risk that they should have taken even when it was important to lock everything else down.

There's no doubt that tiptoeing through this maze and staying alive and healthy is a very hard thing to do, and the NCOC must be commended and congratulated for leading Pakistan to one of the best positions in the whole world in this race for survival, but it must also continue to do the right thing. This is one of those times when even the slightest mistake can cause irreparable damage. Hopefully, it will do the right thing, and in the right window of time. Last but not least, banning air travel for unvaccinated people won't solve all the Covid-related problems, but it's a step in the right direction.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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