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Daily Times Editorial 12 June 2020

Among the top 10


Hopefully now, as the prime minister has promised to monitor implementation of SOPs (standard operating procedures), some of the most senior government officials will also take the matter seriously. It would help if the prime minister personally set an example as well, and started wearing a mask, not the least so others can learn from him and follow his example. It is precisely because of the carelessness of far too many people that Pakistan has moved from a country with one of the lowest counts of coronavirus cases to now find a place in the top 10 countries in terms of number of cases. There is also something to be said about deploying the tiger force, etc, to seal off areas after they report a sudden surge in cases. While such actions are no doubt necessary the prime focus must still be on prevention.
Unfortunately everybody knows how the government feels about measures that ensure prevention rather than a cure, but the PM is right in appreciating the fact that the time has come to punish anybody who violates SOPs. For one of the many ways in which the coronavirus is different from any disaster or plague in living memory is its highly contagious nature. Therefore, by acting irresponsibly and exposing themselves to the virus, people also immediately endanger the lives of everybody they come in contact with; especially immediate family and colleagues. And one reason the number of infections has shot up so sharply in Pakistan, on top of the government’s inadequate policy measures, is what can rightly be described as unforgivable behaviour on part of far too many people. Even when the whole world was locked down, even all places of worship were closed, Pakistan decided to act differently and the federal government was severely criticising the lockdowns ordered by provincial governments.
Since most countries were able to enforce strict lockdowns because they punished anybody that broke the rules, and Pakistan has now decided to adopt the same strategy at least as far as basic SOPs go, maybe we will some sort of sanity in the near future. The way the virus is spreading at the moment, which will soon overwhelm hospitals, is not sustainable. The government must now make sure that the PM’s instructions are followed very seriously and people obey all the rules. Otherwise strict punishments should be awarded, especially to senior government ministers, if they continue to behave like nothing has happened. We must find our way out of the top 10 immediately and then continue on the road to progress.


Signal from the markets

Finally, it seems international financial markets are turning even though it’s still too soon to tell if they have run out of steam or are just taking a breather before climbing once again. Experienced traders would no doubt bet that the huge and unexpected rally, which banked on record stimulus packages in some of the largest economies, has now all but run its course. Yet even they would think twice before counting too much on their own experience, rich as it no doubt is, considering how wrong they were proved precisely because of this rally, which made the world’s largest indexes recover a good 40 percent from the low they touched when the virus first came.
There is now talk of a W-shaped recovery, as opposed to the exciting V-shaped recovery idea being tabled till just a few weeks ago. It could well be that the pundits are right this time around, and market fundamentals are just too week to trigger or accommodate any sustained upward move. The main reason for the crash on Thursday was the increasing likelihood of a second wave of the coronavirus. That means that all the fears that kept institutional investors away at the beginning of the latest rally are coming true. Opening up economies did cause the virus to spread faster and further, and since numbers of fresh cases are rising all around, some countries could well be forced to lock down again. That, most likely, is why market volatility indicators are so high again and investors are making for safe havens after a while.
Should the dreaded second wave really come, poor countries will naturally be put at far greater risk than rich ones. The problem is that much bigger for countries, like Pakistan, that have very large populations which also always means a lot of people living in abject poverty. The government really struggled to provide fiscal cushion in the brief time that the lockdown was implemented here. But should things be forced shut again, it will be nearly impossible to throw enough money into the market to keep businesses alive and also cater to the needs of all the starving daily wagers in the slums. The signal from the market is some cause for worry once again
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