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EDITORIAL: Federal Minister Asad Umar’s warning about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus only confirms what everybody was beginning to suspect; that another potentially very dangerous wave of the virus has reached Pakistan. The jury is still out on whether or not this variant is any more dangerous than previous ones, although there’s no doubt that it spreads much faster, but it has put enough people in hospitals, and also in early graves, for the international community as a whole to raise yet another pandemic red flag. This comes when at least one survey revealed that, for some reason, almost 30 percent of Pakistanis were beginning to believe that the pandemic was already over and done with.

There’s no denying that the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), which Asad Umar heads, has so far done an outstanding job of containing the virus in Pakistan. It’s use of real time data, which enabled it to identify hot spots very quickly, as well as its targeted shutdown approach made Pakistan come out of the lockdown earlier than most countries in the world; and since then the virus has been less present, and less of a problem, here than in most other places. Yet that, despite all the good work of the NCOC, is still not short of a small miracle since people never really came round to respecting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) quite like the situation demanded. And that’s probably why Asad Umar betrayed the sort of apprehension that he hasn’t harboured so far in this fight against the pandemic when he warned about the Omicron threat.

With well over a thousand cases reported in two days, and the positivity ratio reaching 1.3 percent, this problem definitely needs to be solved before it can snowball and put the country’s healthcare system under severe strain once again. Let’s not forget that the economy’s the weakest it’s ever been, and another round of lockdowns, job losses, fall in output, etc., will hurt not just the people but also the country’s growth engine very badly. And while the government can provide necessary guidance and direction, this is the sort of crisis that people will have to largely meet on their own. That shouldn’t be too hard since all that is required of them is to follow all safety protocols at all times, especially in public places. There’s no way any government can police all its people all the time, of course, so unless citizens themselves form the frontline against this invasion, nobody will really be safe.

People must also have noticed that this threat is building just when the opposition is looking to mobilise against the government. This fact raises the stakes considerably because while it is everybody’s right to protest in a functioning democracy, surely there’s precious little to be gained if the people also have infections and deaths to worry about on top of inflation and unemployment. It’s very obvious that such threats require the whole country to work together. And it could do the state and its people a great deal of harm if the government and opposition are unable to come on the same page even on matters of such monumental importance. People look to their leaders to provide solutions to complicated issues, after all, but if their urge to do each other harm is stronger than their desire to do the public any good, then even the collapsing economy could quickly become the least of the people’s worries very quickly.

The government has every reason to be proud of containing the virus better than almost all other countries so far. It was indeed a job very well done. And it’s even better that the success has not made it complacent. NCOC has sounded the Omicron alarm in time for the people to make necessary adjustments. Hopefully, that is all they will need to face this threat with the same success as earlier waves of the coronavirus.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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