The seriousness of Pandemic in Pakistan

Palitha Mahipala, the Chief of WHO-Pakistan, in a letter sent to the provincial governments, said that the country did not meet any of the organization’s six technical criteria for easing a lockdown. Furthermore, WHO (World Health Organization) has recommended that Pakistani authorities reimpose a strict, intermittent lockdown targeting localities with high coronavirus spread, as cases in the South Asian country increase exponentially since most restrictions were lifted last month.

South Asia is the most densely populated region of the World. One-fourth of the World’s population is concentrated in this region. India, with a population of 1.3 Billion, followed by Pakistan 220 Million and Bangladesh 165 million, respectively. The economic situation is also not satisfactory, the gap between rich and poor is enormous, and people living under poverty are large in numbers. Malnutrition and lack of adequate health care have worsened the situation further.

With the number of confirmed cases 125,933, Pakistan is at 15th position in the World, the daily increase of new cases is above 6000, the death toll reached 2,463. Pakistan’s capacity for testing is limited to only 3,667 per million of the population. It is estimated that the actual number of infected is very high but not recorded and not reported.

The Government of Pakistan has taken all possible measures to protect masses from the Contagious Virus. All educational institutions were closed down immediately, Ministries were closed, public transport was suspended. Industry and businesses were shut down, and public gatherings were banned. It has adversely affected the national economy, especially the middle-class and lower-middle-class has suffered heavily. Small companies and daily wagers were the most vulnerable segment of society.

Government, keeping in mind that people should not be starved to death instead of the virus, has relaxed the lockdown at the end of May 2020, but with strict SoPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Unfortunately, the public at large failed to implement the SoPs strictly and resulted in an exponential increase in new cases.

Knowing the literacy rate & temperament of the nation very well, it was expected that the strict implementation of SoPs by the general public might not be followed voluntarily, and on the other hand Government’s capacity to enforce SoPs is also limited. Many health experts, especially doctors involved with Pandemic, argued not to relax the lockdown. However, political Governments have many other considerations and parameters. Starvation and hunger might be one of them, why it has ignored the expert’s recommendations.

I believe that we must learn from the World’s experiences. There are countries, who followed an extremely liberal approach and have not applied any restrictions on their public, which is Sweden. Nevertheless, now they realized that it had impacted negatively. There are countries, who followed a medium approach and sacrificed human lives while in an attempt to save the economy. The Death toll was rather high among aged people or those who were suffering from any other disease already. Few countries in the Western World believe that aged people are a burden or liability. They are non-productive and non-contributor to the national economy, so they sacrificed them.

However, Pakistan is a typical Eastern society and values its elder-generation, even though they are not contributing to their families or nation. However, no one is willing to sacrifice them. Our culture, religion, and morals do not allow us to be careless with old parents, grandparents, or elders. We value our traditions.

To date, there was only one country which has succeeded in overcoming the Pandemic, that is China. We must learn from the Chinese experience. Although China was the first country to become the victim of Coronavirus, very quickly, they studied the virus and its nature, structure, genomics. They concluded that it is highly contagious, and a comprehensive and strict lockdown is the only solution. China suffered a substantial economic loss but preferred the precious lives of human beings. Money can be generated by hard work, the economy can be rectified with the right policies, but the loss of human lives is irrecoverable, irreversible, and can not be undone.

China is a very close friend of Pakistan, and Chinese expert-teams are regularly visiting Pakistan for advice, and there is close coordination between China and Pakistan. Trust, by implementing Chinese recommendations, Pakistan may over-come COVID-19. Other good examples are New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea.

There is a dire need to change the public perception; unless the general public is not willing to implement SoPs strictly, the danger of Pandemic is very much there. I am scared; if people are waiting until they suffer themselves or their close relatives, then they will realize the importance of SoPs. We must learn from other’s experiences and success stories.

Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan
Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan
Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.