Lockdown to breakdown

One can only pray for the future.

Kamal Siddiqi April 27, 2020
One can only wonder at the logic of easing the lockdown by the federal government at a time when Covid-19 cases are increasing in the country. The argument that such a lockdown hurts economic activity which means jobs and incomes is plausible. But the question many are asking is — at what cost?

The way the Imran Khan government has handled the Covid-19 crisis leaves a lot to be desired. Much of the blame lies on the shoulders of the de facto health minister, Dr Zafar Mirza, who despite his impressive international credentials has failed us miserably.

It was on his watch that we allowed the hundreds of Zaireen from Iran into the country despite the fact that there was a major Covid crisis taking place in that country. This came after we had denied the entry of Pakistani students from China. So one can only ask about the logic behind opposite approaches in the two cases. It was under the watchful eyes of Dr Mirza that thousands of international passengers came into the country through various airports and were not checked — the only checking that took place was at Islamabad airport which accounts for a fraction of international travel.

While Dr Mirza later informed us that most of the Covid-19 cases could be traced to the pilgrims from Iran and those who attended the Ijtema at Raiwind in mid-March, nothing was done to stop that annual gathering from taking place. Nothing was done to make quarantine facilities better in Balochistan, where the pilgrims from Iran had to live in horrible conditions and not surprisingly tried to leave as soon as possible.

It comes as a surprise somewhat of the number of people reacted negatively to the correct and timely remarks by the honourable Chief Justice on the performance of Dr Mirza and his team. We have seen one blunder after another by him taking place. And no one can take him to task.

While our PM continues to espouse the values of honesty and accountability, it seems such lofty ideals were left aside when it came to the Covid crisis. Common sense also seems to have been abandoned in favour of short-sightedness petty politics.

In his first address, which itself came very late, the PM insisted that that Covid-19 was not a fatal disease and that people should not panic. How will we explain that to the families of the 250 people who have so far died of the virus?

The whole manner in which the government has pandered to one lobby and another — from the construction industry to our clergy — can make one wonder who is running the show and to what end. Instead of allowing activity in areas where incidents were low, our great leaders decided to allow sector-wise concessions, which again defies logic.

The other challenge, as usual, is statistics. Much of the numbers coming out of Punjab are fudged. They are corrected one after the other. Those who report these figures end up pulling their hair in frustration.

In the meantime, we are still unclear on what national strategy we have adopted. The Centre says one thing and the provinces say another. No one seems to be thinking of Pakistan. The Centre seems to be focused on Punjab while the provinces are fighting for themselves.

In contrast, the Sindh government has taken the lead in shutting down urban centres in a bid to lessen the spread of the virus. Educational institutions were shut down well in advance. Curbs on public gatherings put in place earlier than other provinces. As a result, the numbers coming out of Sindh are less horrific than the other places.

What one finds interesting is that the Sindh government has managed to cast itself in such a favourable light with the help of correct decisions and far-thinking leadership. Prior to this, the Sindh government was known for its mismanagement and corruption — such a change of image thanks to the leadership of the CM.

As Ramazan starts we have already been warned of more deaths and troubling times ahead. And yet, our PM insists we are a free country and will not be dictated to by anyone. Which means we can cast aside caution and common sense and work in any way which we feel we can. One can only pray for the future.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2020.

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