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Daily Times Editorial 23 June 2020

Some success?


While any good news regarding the coronavirus pandemic is always very welcome, it is extremely important to read the numbers correctly to get the right idea about the kind of situation that still confronts us. The number of new cases as well as deaths is one the decline for the first time in a while in Punjab, for example, but then there are also reports that people with mild symptoms are no longer bothering to get tested because of ling lines and the chance of catching the infection while waiting for the test. And most people now prefer to stay home, isolate themselves, and wait for the virus to pass on their own so long as their symptoms are not too bad. That would explain the small number of free beds in a few hospitals that the provincial government talked about the other day.
However, any progress must be appreciated and built upon to ensure yet better results. The story of Punjab so far has been one of the virus spreading out of control because of weak lockdown measures initially and the downright refusal of people at large to take social distancing protocols seriously; something that really angered the provincial government, perhaps rightly so. But now that a turnaround of sorts is seemingly underway, every effort should be made to add momentum in the right direction. And that will just not be possible until every citizen plays a part. The government can have a right policy in place but such is the nature of the coronavirus that unless everybody follows all the rules it can still spread very quickly and undo any good results that have been so painstakingly achieved.
People should also be mindful that a decrease in the number of new cases does not mean that the situation is now under control. New cases as well as deaths are still emerging, albeit not at as fast a rate as before. So the last thing the government should do right now is indulge in any sort of self-praise at all; or anything that could make it take its eye off the ball. Let’s not forget that the graph is not only nowhere near flattening in Pakistan just yet, but has not even plateaued, which leaves us as one of those countries where it is still rising. If Punjab is indeed meeting some sort of success in this war against the pandemic, it should build on its achievement and make sure the new trend is not broken


Weak local governments


It should be more than a small concern for the government that a UNDP (United Nations Development Program) report has said in no uncertain terms that while local governments have been at the forefront of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the situation in Pakistan is quite different since these institutions are disconnected from the people who are “saddled with a governance style which is top-down, reactive and authoritative.” That is a problem because not only do local governments that do not function as they are required to alienate the people, the problem is much bigger at this particular time because it is also undermining the fight against the pandemic. That explains, to no small extent, why the federal and provincial governments have taken proactive steps to counter the crisis yet they have not yielded the kind of results that were expected.
Local government is clearly the most important tier of the three levels of government – federal, provincial and local. It is there, after all, that the state really interacts with the grass root. Indeed, as the UNDP report pointed out, all these problems with local governments here have led to weakening of the rather important ‘state-society social contract’, which has in turn led to ‘marginalisation, group grievances, and conflict and social resilience in the country’. The report also goes on to mention that the coronavirus crisis is threatening to undermine social cohesion within countries, which is something that Pakistan should take very seriously since these problems are naturally more visible in countries with large populations and high poverty rates. The natural baby steps to counter such trends is for government to encourage public engagement and political dialogue across society, but that is easier said than done in the present circumstances because of the risk of further contagion.
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