EDITORIAL: The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) fully deserves all the praise that it's receiving for a job well done. The country came close to Covid disaster twice, during the first and third waves when the healthcare system was almost overwhelmed, yet the oversight and advice provided by NCOC made all the difference. And now Pakistan is being counted among countries that fared the best during the pandemic. In fact, it wouldn't be stretching the truth too far to say that we did so well only because of the policies adopted by NCOC, given how most people threw caution to the wind and ignored almost all safety procedures most of the time. And if it hadn't been for the smart lockdowns introduced and enforced by this body, Pakistan could well have suffered a fate like India's.
Its biggest achievement has been making sure that a second countrywide lockdown was not needed because the economy would not have survived it. The first one, which barely lasted a month or so, forced an 8-9 billion dollar stimulus programme out of the government. And when you consider that it is bending over backwards to restart the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is just a $6 billion loan, it becomes clear just how smart the limited, targeted lockdown strategy really was because it kept the economy from being completely shut down. And the smart lockdowns were so successful only because a data-driven approach was adopted. NCOC was able to identify and isolate hot areas with high positivity ratios in real time and contain the spread of the virus before it could get out of hand.
It goes to NCOC's credit that it did not try to fudge any data at any time to look good. And except perhaps for the two occasions when it prematurely green-lighted reopening of schools, only to take the decision back after a few days each time, it wasn't misled by the data at all. It also says a lot that this body was able to cut through the usual bureaucratic red tape and also overcome deep-rooted differences between political parties as well as central and provincial governments without too much trouble. Its success is welcome proof, since some was badly needed, that it is possible for political parties and government departments to disagree about certain matters, sometimes very seriously, yet still work together towards a common goal; even in Pakistan. This alone is reason enough for this model to be put under the microscope and studied extensively to be applied elsewhere as well.
And even as the positivity ratio is declining quite visibly, NCOC's next big test is to avoid complacency. Unless the vaccination curve is maintained, even improved while making sure that all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are strictly followed, the threat of the virus multiplying and getting out of control is always present; which means we are not out of the woods just yet. News of a new strain of the virus emerging in China this time, and slowing down the world's second-biggest economy, provides a fresh challenge for Pakistan. And the last thing the country needs right now is for NCOC to be caught off guard, like it was by the third wave of the virus, and give up much of the gains that have been so painstakingly achieved. The Chinese are frequent travellers to Pakistan, as Pakistanis are to that country, so a strategy will have to be worked out that allows safe travel and also keeps China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects on track.
The work of all government departments, especially the military that provided very able support to Planning Minister Asad Umar and his team, must also be appreciated. This was one of those rare instances when everybody worked together for the greater good and succeeded in saving the country from utter disaster. Hopefully, this trend will be repeated again and again.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021