Anew world: socially, functionally, and economically to a very large extent. Politics will need to be suave and smart to first ‘know’ and then navigate through these newer realities which will define the contours of the coming world. Societies and systems will need to adapt to the emerging biogenesis and mutations of coexisting creatures like viruses. That to me is the crux of humanity’s Covid experience. Life must still be lived, Covid or not. It is humanity’s obligation. Unlikely to submit to universal suicide at the hand of a microbe, humanity will learn newer ways and serve its part till the end of the world.
The Covid-driven environment will be around for more than a season; two maybe three. Already humanity is stirring into motion without the invasion yet stemmed — signs are of only a marginal retreat. The virus may be running out of steam in New York, and in Norway with its strict lockdown regime as well as in China where deaths on account of Covid are reduced to zero for now. Sweden decided to take the virus head-on with its strong and able part of the population, and while she may not have done as well in lives lost than say Norway which simply decided to bide time and let the disease tire itself out, there is something to learn in each of these cases. Especially Sweden’s may be the default resort for many as men tire first. Pakistan is one example which aggregates all its inadequacies to falter into where Sweden may have entered as a strategy. With a 220 million population Pakistan remains another model in the making. India too. The world must still await the effect of extreme heat on the virus in a very large, poor and congested population.
While Sweden will be ready to move on to the next phase of life under Covid — they never stopped — Norway will be tentative as it ventures out to discover life in the new world. Sweden chose a risky and a deliberately aggressive way out while Norway opted for the risk-free option. These contrasting strategies will more or less govern how these societies take on their social and economic functions in the lingering presence of the virus. The pathway to dealing with the virus may have been a political choice but its consequences will be deeply social and economical, and in how rapidly will each society find normalcy even if it be a new kind. But then we are talking of nations in the order of five and ten million in population, easier to manage and inculcate behavioral changes. Except China of course which can order an order; even more importantly find easy acceptance of it in her society.
Pakistan is the real test and other than some heavenly redemption may be charting an entirely new paradigm for nations of its size and density and high on the poverty scale. We don’t know. But the world on the verge of slackening the lockdown — after initial gains — is going to largely move towards ‘herd immunity’; the Swede way. These nations will test widely to isolate the suspects and quarantine them to keep others safe when they transit into increasing functionality. Pakistan has instead chosen ‘targeted testing’ to justify a smart lockdown. As we deal in semantics we inordinately hurtle down the path of ‘herd immunity’ by opening the economy and affiliated services. Possibly for reasons of resource constraint we have made the weak choice to reduce testing when it should have been quadrupled to ascertain those fit to join the workforce. Lockdowns ‘flatten the curve’ and sometime kill the virus — New Zealand — while wider testing assures normalcy without fear of surge and spikes in infections when cohabiting with the virus.
Pakistan thus has its task cut out as it opens for business. What is left will probably be up for Eid. Other than enhanced testing — anti-bodies, since it is easier and quicker — what is needed is a clear to-do list: all sixty-five years and older be quarantined at home till the disease is truly out — Sweden did this as it chose the ‘herd’ option and cut her losses (with our structure of large families in congested spaces this will only add to our pain); those out of homes must wear masks — it should become a part of everyday attire; sanitisation and personal hygiene must be a requirement; social distancing should be a way of life at home and at work. Social, religious or leisure assemblies be either forbidden or modified to ensure social distancing avoiding physical contact. If we can somehow discipline and train our people to these new ways, and test ‘widely’ to identify and quarantine those exposed, we may just be able to make something of this default ‘herding’ and cut our losses too.
Pakistan’s other tryst is with her economic (mis)fortune. Covid will level all economies; some literally, like Pakistan’s, and some implicitly by shaving off gains and regressing those in the negative. Each will suffer but some will survive on their inherent strength. Those that decimate will have to build anew. Pakistan is lucky to have found an opportunity to take stock in this forced pause. She is fortunate to produce her own food. She must focus the most building on this inherent strength. Next is digitisation and data without which any and every system and leader in the new world is literally blind; hence, incapable of taking independent and timely decisions. We need a pool of experts in science, technology and mathematical modeling capable to provide this critical input for planning and decision-making, as well as offer sufficiency for a technology-driven economy. Infrastructure development in roadways, health and IT does not only offer jobs and engage labour it also synergises with a national need to develop a digital data-bank. The international economy will need skilled workforce. We must train our people in the next three years to capitalise on such emerging markets. The larger economy driven by the private sector will be triggered by right policies.
This is my eighth piece in continuity on coronavirus and its implications. There is nothing more left to say on this. Our decade-old problems will not vanish overnight but we should develop an intellectual capital to know and understand what entails to run modern societies and economies — especially post-Covid — and mind the state at the same time. Mere sloganeering will not do, nor incessant borrowing will trigger any prosperity. Instead real production and efficient governance, and sound decision-making will. These are increasingly knowledge-based. Those in politics will need to rethink how may they realise the objectives in a rapidly transforming world. Least of which is to gather the right brain-trust around them to navigate through a complex existential environment. One wrong step and the wrath of what might befall next may be enough to sweep all under. Beware.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2020.
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