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EDITORIAL: The last thing the country needs as it tries to survive political brinkmanship, economic collapse, heightened threat of default and resurgent terrorism is another wave of the Covid virus sweeping through it. Worse still, reports that authorities are “ill-prepared” to check its arrival at our airports and ports, if true, amount to literally giving the economy the kiss of death as businesses and industry, already up in arms over reduced working hours to conserve energy, will be forced to shut down all over again; with too many of them likely to go belly up for the business of the state to go on as usual. For, even without this new scare, there’s plenty for the government to worry about as it has only days left to inflict more tax pain on the people to revive the crucial IMF (International Monetary Fund) program.

The top three countries suffering from the new Covid variant are the US, China and India. And since Pakistan receives a lot of cargo and passenger traffic from the first two of them, it almost beggars belief that the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) hasn’t yet moved beyond issuing the usual all-is-well statement. It is, of course, appreciated that the immunity level of Pakistani citizens is generally better than those of most other countries. Yet it’s very important to note that vaccination levels have been much better in places like the US, and it is precisely the lack of proper vigilance that’s making them face the same crisis again. There is no way to make up for lost time in such things, no doubt, but that only raises the urgency to upgrade screening procedures at arrival lounges all over the country and initiate another media outreach campaign to discourage unnecessary meetings till the threat is reduced.

Islamabad should in fact have acted as soon as it got to know that rare protests forced the Chinese government to tone down its strict public isolation policy which, in turn, created a new emergency because the virus was able to mutate again. And since Beijing is our biggest foreign investor, best friend, our new lender of last resort, etc., and there is an extraordinarily high level of travel between Pakistan and China, allowing the new variant to waltz into the country amounts to criminal neglect which the top decision makers must answer for. The most likely reason for this unforgivable lapse is that the entire political elite – government as well as opposition – is too consumed in its own selfish power games to give the people’s interests, or even their lives, any attention even if it wants to.

And therein lies the main problem. A new Covid emergency can quickly overwhelm the healthcare infrastructure and paralyse the economy. But it’s not something that cannot be controlled with proper and, more importantly, timely action. Last time the NCOC did the country proud with its innovative use of data analytics to identify and isolate hotspots in real time. That, again, only underlines the importance of being ahead of the curve. Pakistan desperately needs to live up to its reputation as one of the countries to combat Covid most effectively anywhere in the whole world, especially because it just does not have the financial elbow room to weather another self-created storm.

There is too much at stake to allow any complacency, including people’s lives, livelihoods and the survival of the economy. Let there be no doubt, we’re not very far from that point where an economic implosion and subsequent fragmentation of the country itself will become a very real possibility. It’s a shame that our politicians are bent upon sleepwalking into this nightmare instead of bending over backwards to avoid it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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