KARACHI: It was not too long ago when the first coronavirus case was reported in Pakistan. Venturing out of your house freely is not an activity that occurred too far in the past.
Still, less than two months into a pandemic-induced lockdown, citizens in Pakistan's financial hub, Karachi, seem to be fast losing patience over lockdown restrictions.
Keeping in view the persistently rising coronavirus tally and the death toll in the province, it was reported recently that the Sindh government intended to further extend the lockdown. This has added to the growing unease among citizens, with palpable unrest and tension in the metropolis.
Deep in crisis
Multitudes of people in the city have time and again demanded at least relaxations in the lockdown as a means to overcome the financial crisis.
"It is enough now. We can't afford to keep businesses closed," said Haji Ishaq, who runs a shop in Tariq Raod. His opposition to the lockdown arises out of worsening financial conditions, which he reckons will take at least a year to overcome, given that the lockdown does not last beyond two months.
Other small-scale traders like Ishaq, and those part of the vast informal economy, have also been voicing such concerns, asking the government to gradually lift the lockdown. Meanwhile, larger traders, transporters, and some others have even demanded financial relief from the government.
In response to these appeals, the government had earlier committed to tax waivers and devising operation guidelines for various sectors but the matter still hangs in the balance.
"The uncertainty surrounding the lockdown has disturbed the entire nation," insists Ishaq.
This is particularly true in the case of daily-wage workers like Muhammad Ramazan.
"I am in trouble. It has become difficult for me to feed my family," he lamented. "I don't have enough money [and] am experiencing one of the hardest times in my life." The government should not extend the lockdown, he said emphatically.
According to Abdullah Shah, who owns a shop in the city's suburbs, the misery many are facing is large because of the authorities' indifference.
"Politicians and traders simply don't care about the common man," he complained, adding that lockdown during Ramazan had added to his difficulties. "We have to bring our lives back to normal," he stressed, opining that people had suffered more due to the lockdown than the pandemic itself.
Gravity lost on many
The thought is largely prevalent among citizens, so much so that some even deny the gravity of the growing Covid-19 crisis outright.
"Look at the number of patients [in Pakistan]. It's almost [near to] nothing," claimed Rajab Ali, a salesman, strongly opposing the lockdown. "The number of lockdown victims is higher than pandemic victims."
Saying that the contagion had not hit the country as hard as projected, he criticised the government for making decisions based on the situation in countries such as Italy and America. But those countries could afford a strict lockdown, having stable economies, he opined, adding, "We are a poor nation and cannot afford long, strict lockdowns."
A government employee, Atif Ansari, is of the same view.
"We are in good health and even the infected are in better condition now. The situation is under control in Pakistan," he said. Calling for lifting the lockdown, particularly to the benefit of daily wagers and rural area dwellers, Ansari said, "The longer the lockdown continues, the worse the consequences."
However, dispelling misperceptions of the pandemic is not too severe, Dr. Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, a member of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), said that the community spread of the virus was at its peak during Ramazan.
"The coming two weeks are critical," he warned, adding that the government had failed to limit the spread of the virus. The lockdown was not implemented properly because of the non-serious attitude of the government, he said, predicting, "I see the situation getting worse in the coming days."
Echoing these views, PMA general secretary Dr Qaisar Sajjad said, "We needed a strict lockdown but due to the confusion created by the [provincial and federal] government, the virus couldn't be contained. I do not see any lockdown anywhere in the city."
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2020.