The lockdown fatigue is apparent across the world. Several countries, including Pakistan, have recently decided to loosen “restrictions”, despite a rising curve of Covid-19 cases. Protracted lockdowns are inherently unsustainable, especially when the living memory hasn’t experienced a global pandemic firsthand. But it is also true that there are now emerging ways and methods – call them benchmarks and SOPs – to ease into human activity that are being woefully ignored. Who will pay the toll of indifference?
That the epidemiologists’ warnings have been cast aside in many countries is an unfortunate, but a somewhat understandable, reality. As they say, epidemiology, for all its brilliance, is not an exact science, for it is modeled on complex human behaviors. This tempts naysayers and skeptics to dismiss epidemiological forecasts more forcefully than they would laws of physics. An epidemiologist, however, loves to be proven wrong about the doomsday scenarios she projects.
But what is rather surprising is the giant leap of faith, a gamble, which many countries’ leaders have taken in reopening their economies without cause. There is a rush to bring things back to normal when it clearly isn’t safe to be normal. It’s almost as if the coronavirus containment efforts have been resigned to fate, regardless of whether the meaning of herd immunity is properly understood or accepted in official quarters. The virus, meanwhile, is allowed to rip through.
There will be consequences. But it appears that the head honchos may be spared the political price. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been clear that national governments, even in the so-called science-oriented West, have been playing fast and loose with the public over “disease control” efforts. The political cycle has run its course from denial to belated acceptance to premature victory laps, but the virus is still dialing up the tally.
A single-minded, non-partisan pursuit of disease control was required across the globe. Except for a few countries that followed that path and tamed the virus, much of the rest of the nations provided their people with a false choice between saving the economy and saving lives. In doing so, the populists have been successful in dividing the public and securing their “base”. There is no accountability for not taking seriously enough the third option of active testing, contact tracing and isolating patients.
Look no further than the United States to see how the inopportune divineness is playing out in the open. Donald Trump, who at one point recommended Americans to ingest disinfectants to kill the virus, has declared victory over the pandemic and gone back to political fistfights with the Democrats. And yet, his approval ratings haven’t tanked at all and his candidacy is still competitive for re-election this November.
After pedaling hazardous cures, instigating protestors against lockdowns and threatening partisan inquiries, Trump is now trying to frame the “debate” around a vaccine becoming available in early 2021. This move is aimed to deflect from a failed testing strategy and to give people hope amid re-election campaign. But this may provide fatal confidence to Americans as they venture out during summers. Remdesivir, the sole anti-Covid-19 medicine approved so far, isn’t the panacea – it’s 30 percent of a cure!
Here in Pakistan, a similar movie is playing out. There is political discord between central and regional governments hampering a coordinated national response. Muddled messaging and partisan pleas have divided the people on how to respond to Covid-19. Leading epidemiologists are missing from the scene. New political inquiries are in the offing to punish opponents. There has been an abject failure to scale up testing and contact tracing in time, as officials celebrate capacity of less than 15,000 tests a day. And the country has now been rushed back into markets sans SOPs. Is there a scenario where this all ends well?