Has the government’s Covid-19 strategy failed?
The number of Covid-19 patients in Pakistan has now crossed the 250,000 mark. For any country, such a big number should be a point of concern as it means that Covid-19 is still spreading at an alarming rate, and due to insufficient measures taken by the authorities the peak of the virus has still not hit the country according to some experts. The provincial government of Sindh, led by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, has put up a good fight against the virus but there is a big question mark over the performance of the other provincial governments and the federal government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The casual approach with regards to handling of the pandemic and the PTI government’s inability to convince the masses about the seriousness of the situation has not only resulted in the high numbers of infections but has also hurt the middle and lower middle class economically. Anyone with a little knowledge of the pandemic could have understood the risks associated with it and would have gone for a complete lockdown while increasing the testing capacity. However, this did not happen, and the country must the pay the price for PTI’s negligence.
Doctors across the board were telling the government to take this pandemic seriously but they were routinely dismissed as agents of political opponents. Now what we are watching is only a glimpse of the gloomy days which lie ahead. Instead of tackling this problem by forming a united front, the PTI government is busy engaging in a war of words with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). From day one the PTI government was of the view that the lockdown will hurt the labourers and the lower middle class, prompting Imran Khan to decide against the lockdown. However, the half-hearted approach of going for a lockdown to just show the world that the government was serious, and not increasing testing drastically, not only resulted in a rise in Covid-19 patients but it also impacted the economy and the lower middle class. A recent survey of Gallup Pakistan has just revealed that 2.1 million families in Pakistan sold their household items to incur the monthly expense of their kitchen.
This actually raises the question as to what the so-called smart lockdown actually achieved and why, in spite of government claims that it helped deserving people through the Ehsas emergency programme, such staggering numbers of people were forced to sell their their possessions in order to cover basic household needs. Additionally, why were congregational prayers allowed to take place despite doctors advising against it? Currently, the smart lockdown is a sort of failure since SOPs given by the government are not being followed by many frequenting public places.
The quarantine facilities established early on were extraordinarily ineffective, and the mismanagement has now resulted in many people hiding their illness or choosing not to get tested for Covid-19. Naturally, the pharmaceutical mafia is profiteering off of this as medicinal supplements that can help boost the immune system are being sold at black market prices whereas antibiotics like Azithromycin have almost disappeared from the markets these days.
It has been a tale of mismanagement and leaving people to their own fate as far as the ruling party is concerned. The herd immunity model, which was even advocated earlier on by many journalists like us, has proven to be a failure as Sweden has paid the price for opting for that route, both in terms of lives lost and the econoomic ramifications. Living in denial, Imran Khan and his provincial chief ministers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab have started saying that Covid-19 cases are falling in the country, whereas the truth is that government has reduced the testing of Covid-19 patients. The testing capacity, according to a recent news report, has now dropped by 56% in the country.
It is a chaotic situation and many medical doctors who talked to this correspondent are of the view that the botched handling of the pandemic will result in a human catastrophe in Pakistan. Imran Khan has neither saved the vulnerable and poor segment of society from the economic impacts of the pandemic, nor has his governemnt curbed the spread of Covid-19 by opting for a lockdown and massive testing and identification of suspected carriers. The only way forward for the PTI government right now is to take this pandemic seriously and to bring the entire political leadership on one table to form a national action plan on an emergency basis to defeat the first wave of the pandemic. It is never too late to save human lives and the economy.
Whether Imran Khan will ditch his current approach and admit to having underestimated the pandemic, and how the PTI cabinet and provincial governments will implement the SOPs strictly to stop the further spread of the virus, remains to be seen. For now, the masses are on their own and it is not the government but peoples’ luck that will decide their fate.