Hudaibia Iftikhar

Pakistan has emerged as a country with fastest rate of coronavirus infections as per the projections of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Latest statistics of the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC) show that 1,587 persons have been tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. Till now 113,007 covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Sindh, 90,191 in Punjab, 32,086 in KP, 11,436 in Balochistan, 14,599 in Islamabad, 1,849 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 1,915 in Azad Kashmir.

However, lockdown, smart lockdown and finally no lockdown, all happened without flattening the curve. The pandemic continues to be underplayed by the government, posing a formidable challenge for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s leadership — along with causing a serious health crisis in a country of 220 million people with a weak healthcare system.

In Pakistan, from March to mid-May 2020, the government has imposed Plan-A, temporary lockdown during the outbreak of the pandemic in which people are strictly instructed to stay in their homes and refrain from outside activities involving gatherings. Results came in shape of fluctuations and instability in economic prosperity, higher rate of unemployment, price inflation in basic food and pharmacy products, complex psychological state of nation etc. this compelled the government to reopen departments slowly and gradually to run the social and economic wheel of the state. But the control curve started moving in upward direction indicating the COVID-19 cases eruption.

The extension of strict lockdown will be disastrous for the people of Pakistan, as the economy would be affected and thousands of taxpaying citizens will become unemployed. Over 4 in 5 (84%) Pakistanis claim to have lost a significant portion of their income during the coronavirus outbreak and 7 in 10 (68%) report losing their jobs, both highest among 17 countries surveyed, as per Gallup Survey 2020.

To counter the bulk of cases, emerging health and economic problems at administrative level, the government came up with Plan-B in the form of executing smart lockdown. From June, new strategy of smart lockdown was a feasible option of active intervention of the government to launch targeted tracking, tracing, testing, and quarantine mechanism in coordination with national security apparatus to halt the spread of COVID-19 by sealing the areas of infected huddle population only and slackening restrictions on economic activities under the safety guidelines.

Pakistan after failing lockdown approach jumped to implementation of smart lockdown tactic to flatten COVID-19 curve in most affected areas within provinces. It included selective blockade and reopening of remaining workplaces. Management decided to open up the construction industry and offices to enable low socio-economic society to earn livelihood, maintain actual physical social distancing, and the small business-like book shops, steadily on a condition of strictly following SOPs as per government instructions.

To overcome the highest swell in these cases, the government’s policies resulted in unemployment and damage to the economy of the country. The government is of the view that so far, the magnitude of decline in economic growth due to the pandemic remained uncertain. Though, attaining the new independent assessment put the national output losses in the range of Rs891 billion to Rs1.6 trillion in fourth fiscal quarter alone.

As resembling the status quo of the entire country, the pandemic spread as rapid as fire throughout the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and with the blink of an eye gave enormous loss to the people of the province. The case fatality rate (CFR) in KP is 3.82 percent, higher than the 1.88 percent nationwide.

Pakistan now has the 16th highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, but the government public messaging and decision making have yet to assume a clear direction. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches downplaying the nature of the menace, and his government announcements — a lockdown, a smart lockdown and finally no lockdown — all without flattening the COVID-19 curve, further deepened the disbelief among the people.