By Sehar Kamran
As Covid-19 continues its upward trajectory in the world, the
number of infected patients in Pakistan are also on an incline. The virus has
already wreaked havoc in the world, spread in over 190 countries and
territories and killed more than 250,000 people according to data compiled by
the John Hopkins University.
In Pakistan, the number of infected cases has crossed the threshold of more than 22,500 and 526 people have died since the country reported its first case in the last week of February. Economic projections are dire. According to a UN Conference on Trade and Development report released on March 30: “Developing countries, including Pakistan, will be hit hardest by the economic shockwaves caused by the novel coronavirus crisis that has shaken the world and will need a support package of up to $2.5 trillion to cope with the damage.”
To make matters worse, there has been consistent disagreement on policies between the center and provincial governments of Sindh regarding how to handle and prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
From day one, the Sindh government has called for a complete shutdown and ban on the movement of people as per the advice of health experts, but the federal government’s policies and statements have been baffling at best.
Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah took a proactive approach and imposed a complete lockdown when the federal government was still mulling over its strategy. The PPP-led provincial government under Shah was clear and concise in its approach and took a number of bold steps which helped slow down the spread of the virus in the province after an initial spike in patients.
In March, the world’s largest Coronavirus Emergency Care and Cure Centre with isolation wards was established at the Labour Colony flats in Sukkur by the Sindh government. Health desks were set up at Jinnah International Airport Karachi for screening all passengers flying into the country, approved by WHO officials. Sindh also established the country’s first drive-through COVID-19 testing facility in Karachi last month.
Despite limited provincial resources and little to no help
from the federal government, the Sindh Cabinet recently approved the “Corona
Ordinance” to help mitigate the economic repercussions of the virus on the
worst affected people in the province. Under the ordinance, multiple relief
measures have been provided to the people, ranging from 20 percent reduction in
school fees, a decrease in house rent, making it mandatory for employers in the
private sector to not sack or terminate their employees and also ensuring they
are getting paid. Power companies have also been instructed to reduce electricity
bills in stages.
CM Shah and his team rightfully deserve appreciation for rising up to the occasion beyond partisanship and taking the hard decisions. However, a provincial government can only do so much on its own, especially when the federal government is unclear on its strategies to fight the pandemic.
The lack of clarity and a uniform joint policy from the center has affected the ability of all provinces to tackle the virus. Where Sindh government has been vocal and decisive on a complete lockdown from the earliest days, the federal government has opposed the policy. Despite results showing that only a complete lockdown and mass testing of the population will stem the tide of COVID-19, the hem-and-haw of the federal government is a ticking time bomb.
Mosques have been open since the beginning of Ramadan. Ignoring the advice of medical health professionals, the federal government has decided to ease the lockdown across the country after May 9.
Shutdown and social distancing rules are already being flouted across the country, and as a result, we have seen an increase in the number of infected people in the last week or so. Another alarming factor is a decrease in the number of tests being provided by the federal government to detect the virus.
In comparison, the number of testing in Sindh has remained the same because the provincial government has been utilizing its own funds to ensure the safety and protection of the people.
The uncertainty and confusion in policy between the federation and the provincial governments regarding lockdown measures could lead to the untimely death of hundreds, or thousands of people.
An economy can recover after a few years but the lives lost cannot be returned. Doctors from Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have already appealed to the federal and the provincial governments to review their decision and impose a stricter lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Globally, thousands of deaths could have been prevented if world leaders had listened to the experts, but they refused to take proactive measures and gauge the seriousness of the situation. As a result, over a quarter of a million people have died from the virus already, and the world has been in lockdown mode since March.
Political point-scoring can wait. Lives need to be saved right now.
(Sehar Kamran is the President of the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), she is a prominent politician, academician and practitioner in the areas of regional, international defense and strategic studies.Twitter @SeharKamran)