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Daily Times Editorial 3 June 2020

Finally, something for medical workers


Finally, months into the crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan has found the time to take note of lack of safety measures for doctors and paramedical staff at the forefront of the war against the coronavirus and sought a comprehensive action plan from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Welcome as this help and attention is, it must still be noted that it came after a good number of health professionals were infected, at least 11 were killed, a lots of them held numerous strikes to get the attention of authorities. Sadly, the only kind of attention they got in the beginning was from the police, which baton charged and arrested a lot of protesting doctors in Quetta not too long ago. Fortunately, they were not beaten or arrested a little later when they were forced to stage a hunger strike in Lahore.
But now that the PM has taken notice and issued some orders around, hopefully this problem will no longer be a concern. Yet the doctors are still going to be far from perfectly safe. It’s no secret that they do not agree with the PM’s plan of lifting the lockdown so soon, since they know better than anybody else that cases will simply keep rising till some sort of vaccine is developed to treat the coronavirus. Till then it’s only a matter of controlling the number of cases any country registers. And Pakistanis just cannot be trusted with opening up completely at this point since they have displayed the unique ability of not taking the lockdown, or social distancing protocols, seriously at all. In fact, seeing Pakistani crowds in markets it seemed that the cure to the virus actually lay in getting out and mixing and mingling with everybody.
All this means doctors will have their hands full for quite a while. So the least the country can do is arm these warriors adequately. Just like no military command would ever send a special forces battalion to the front lines without necessary armour, the doctors have no business on this battlefield without foolproof protective equipment. But there’s more to the matter. Even when fully protected the doctors can do little about hospital space and other necessary equipment like ventilators at their disposal. Since opening up now means a pretty much confirmed rise in overall cases, the main concern now is enhancing quarantine and treatment facilities across the country. And that, alas, is not something that the doctors can do. As the government goes about reopening and justifying it, it must also give such factors ample consideration.


Markets continue to defy logic


International financial markets continue to defy all academic logic and operate in a bubble, of sorts, as if completely ignoring all the downside news of the last few weeks. Even now, when there is increasing talk of yet more diplomatic hostility between the US and China, and America is rocked by protests over the police killing of one black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the market is brimming with risk appetite, sending the dollar, along with other usual safe haven investments, crashing in the currency market. It’s quite a different matter, really, that at home the rupee still lost considerable ground to the greenback in early-week trading.
It seems for quite a few weeks the market has been exhibiting a sort of desperation never seen before. For even as the worst economic news of the century was coming out of the US, EU, China and Japan – some of the world’s biggest economies – the markets barely batted an eye and continued with their strange bull run. Long time pundits, stunned by this sudden disregard for the usual stimuli to sell, feel the market is trying to grow its way out of the recession; if such a thing is possible. Hence the minor downward swings despite really bad news and the wild swings whenever something even remotely pleasant hits the headlines. That also explains why commodity currencies are doing so well despite little or no prospect of economic growth picking up practically anywhere in the world during this fiscal year.
Yet, not to burst this particular balloon, but there’s only so long such a party can last. Euro hit an eleven-week high Tuesday night because of a truly remarkable relief package announced by the German government. But there’s only so many packages even economies the size of Germany can keep throwing into the market. Eventually all the excess space will make its way to Money Heaven. And let’s not forget that Berlin was among the first to formally announce a recession because of the pandemic. So the best bet on the euro, in the longer term, would still be a well-timed short position. And the only time institutional investors will really commit to lasting bullish bets, as opposed to what increasingly seems like a desperate attempt to manufacture an upside, is when a laboratory cure is found for Covid-19. Till then trading international markets, and taking cue from them about the health of the global economy, is just like riding wild waves that will take you some distance, but also throw you off the surf board sooner or later.
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