Analysis of Government Policy dealing the pandemic in Pakistan

Covid-19 has hit hard Pakistan and it seems that it will paralyse the whole country. There is extreme pressure on the health infrastructure of the country. This pandemic is confirmed to reach the country on 26 February when a student returning from Iran tested positive. By 19 June, the confirmed cases have reached to167956.The government policy to tackle this pandemic is not a success story. As a Hong Kang based Deep Knowledge Group ranked Pakistan among the country whose safety measure against COVID-19 are not up to the mark. Pakistan stands at 148th position out of 200 nations with a safety score of 370 while our neighbour India stands at 56th (score 505), Iran at 73rd (505) and Afghanistan at the end 196th (310). Moreover, the ratio of confirmed cases to the total population in Pakistan is highest in the Asia region.

This indicates the failure of the government policy to tackle this pandemic. The government policy was not framed on unrealistic assumptions: trade-off between economy and health, the lockdown has not been effective to deal with Covid-19, caring economy care health and positive enforcement work better to adopt the COVID-19 related SOPs. I think there is a need for a realistic appraisal of these assumptions

From the first day when this pandemic reached to the country, the government is confused between economy and health. Prime minister (PM) built a narrative that the government will save the people either from virus or from poverty and hunger. The government chose to save the economy so that people may not die from hunger. I think this is the wrong narrative about state responsibilities. The state should prevent people from both hunger and virus. If this assumption is made about government duties, the policy outcome would have been different than we are experiencing.

Second, the assumption that saving the economy will eventually save the health crises also proved wrong. Opening the economy at the cost of the health of the people was the wrong choice of the government. How an economy can be saved with the exponential growth of the virus. With the large spread of the virus, the government will eventfully close the economy again. On fist June I posted on my Facebook wall “The government seems to have given up trying to contain the spread of the COVID-19. Under the pressure from various groups, the government eased the lockdown at the rising part of the infection curve. Consequently, the infection seems to be out of control and “herd immunity” is a default option. Thus, both lives and livelihoods will be lost by the absence of a comprehensive strategy of containment”. Unfortunately, now It seems that Pakistan will face more economic and health losses.

Third, PM’s belief that lockdown is not effective to curtail the virus does not bear any empirical support. Rather evidence supports the opposite as East Asian nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea have successfully curtailed the virus with effective use of the lock dawn. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in its policy Review 15 May 2020 published a research study by Azad Haider and Sajid Ameen. The study employed age-specific Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) to project the deaths in Pakistan with and without social distancing. The study also calculated the economic value of saved lives using the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) method. The results indicate that the economic value of saved life with moderate lockdown can be between $ 37.89 billion to $ 129.81 billion and with strict lockdown $68.21 billion to$233.66 billion. They, therefore, recommend a high degree of social distancing to save the precious lives of the people. Similarly, a recent study published in “nature” claimed that lock dawn has saved millions of people from this pandemic in 11 eleven European countries. This study also recommends lock dawn and social distancing an effective tool to deal with this pandemic.

Fourth, the government’s assumption that lock will lead to hunger also has not yet been tested empirically. Especially in the context of Pakistan where people generously give alms and charities. During the lockdown, many NGOs and Charity group came into action and made sure that no one sleeps hungry. The vast network of NGOs and charity groups can be utilized during lockdown to minimize its impacts on poverty and hunger in the country. Therefore, it cannot be asserted that people will die of hunger during the lockdown.

Lastly, the government assumed that just appealing can persuade the people to adopt SOPs of the Covid-19. It is also a false assumption, in the context of a developing country like Pakistan.  More importantly, the state is like a mother with a stick in her hand that uses a carrot and stick policy to compliance of the law. Police and army are the sticks of the state that should have been utilize defectively in this calamity. How a state can watch people silently if they violate the SOPs and go into danger. This is what happened on Eid related festivals when people in the country violated the SOPs and state was a silent spectator. Moreover, even in advanced countries, the governments imposed heavy penalties to ensure the compliance of virus-related SOPs.

In short, the government should re-evaluate its policy to deal with this pandemic. It is a question of the life of the millions. Any policy based on the false assumption will lead us to a disastrous situation. 

Dr.Abid Rashid Gill
Dr.Abid Rashid Gill
Dr Abid Rashid Gill is serving at the economics department of The Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB), Pakistan. He is also Director of the Green campus Program, IUB. This program aims at transforming IUB from a traditional university into a sustainable green university. He completed his PhD in environmental economics from the Universisiti of Utara Malaysia (UUM). He has published many research articles on environment issues in impact factor journals of international repute. Environment economics and sustainable development are his special area of interest.