How well have we managed the ongoing coronavirus crisis?
Let’s go back a few weeks. The zaireen (pilgrims) from Taftan were not quarantined properly at the border. The government was a little too late in calling off the Raiwind congregation. And there was hardly any coordination between the federal and provincial governments. There were no appropriate quarantine facilities and hardly any testing capacity for Covid-19. There was not even a count of available ventilators in the country. Crude estimates suggested that we had too few. There was no awareness in the public about the necessary precautionary measures, while masks and sanitisers vanished from the market overnight. Back-of-the-envelope estimates projected 20,000 to 25,000 positive cases by mid-April and possibly 400+ deaths.
But gradually, things started to change. Sindh took the lead in enforcing a lockdown, but other provinces followed suit. Transmission slowed down, as new quarantine facilities were set up, new ventilators were imported, and the old ones were repaired free of cost by dedicated engineers. Based on existing projections, the country now has enough ventilators till the first week of June. The testing capacity over the last few weeks has also been ramped up considerably and although it is nowhere close to America or Europe’s, the number of tests per 1,000 people in Pakistan are far more than India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and a little more than half of Japan. Moreover, the existing testing capacity is targeted prudently at those with symptoms, the ones they have been in contact with or travelers from other countries. At least three provinces — Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh — are running pilots on pooled testing approach and are expected to increase their testing capacity by four to six times. Health and district administration officials have been doing meticulous contact tracing to identify people at risk. And most importantly, all provincial and federal agencies have come together to coordinate their efforts through the single National Command and Operations Center (NCOC).
TV advertisements, newspapers, websites and even cellphone ringers all carry awareness messages. The message about 20-second hand washing has spread far and wide. Sanitisers have become a common sight, at least in urban areas, and many can be seen wearing masks. The government has also done an excellent job in reporting statistics. The K-P health minister for instance has been sharing daily disease heatmaps through Twitter. The Digital Pakistan team has developed a Covid-19 dashboard, offering updates on demographic and geographic distribution of cases and tests.
On the economic front, Pakistan was quick to access IMF’s rapid financing facility and seek a debt moratorium. Federal and provincial relief packages have been announced. Interest rate has been brought down by 425 basis points, businesses are being offered low-cost loans to ensure liquidity and more importantly, the federal government is trying to use this opportunity to re-negotiate the IPP agreements. Punjab has announced tax breaks for businesses, while K-P has announced a coping strategy to dilute the impact of the crisis.
Within the private sector, scores of educational institutions have seamlessly transitioned to e-learning virtually overnight. The academics, journalists and analysts have come up with excellent suggestions to mitigate the crisis, while philanthropic organizations like Akhuwat are working diligently to help those in need.
Now all these efforts may have room for improvement but isn’t all this much beyond what we had expected?
While we are quick to criticise what’s wrong, we also need to appreciate what’s right. And now is the time to do that. It is a pleasant reality that the whole country has come together in so many ways to manage the crisis and is trying to win this battle. These are the moments when I feel really proud to be a Pakistani.
Well done Pakistan!
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2020.
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