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Dawn Editorial 2 June 2020

Fear of testing

AS confirmed Covid-19 cases rapidly increase across the country, a dangerous trend is emerging within communities: people are refusing to get tested for the coronavirus as they fear being shamed and stigmatised.
There appears to be a general fear that if the test turns out to be positive, the infected individual will be expelled from the community or left to languish in an isolation centre.
The belief is that calling a Covid-19 testing team to one’s home or neighbourhood will invite judgement.
The consequences of such apprehensions can be extremely damaging to efforts to curb the spread of the infection.
Such concerns stem from a poor understanding of the virus and the SOPs in place to deal with confirmed cases.
There are also concerns that the bodies of those who succumb to the infection are not released to family members, thereby fuelling reluctance to get tested.
These apprehensions are further compounded by conspiracy theories that Covid-19 is ‘not real’.
This phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan.
It is seen in other countries as well, such as Iraq, where religious beliefs and a deep suspicion of the government have made people ashamed and afraid of getting themselves tested.
Over there, the fear runs so deep that some avoid being tested, stop family members getting tested and delay seeking medical help until they fall seriously ill.
A similar trend has been observed in countries in West Africa, where members of a neighbourhood reproached an individual for calling the government helpline to get tested.
In this situation, federal and provincial administrations must improve their messaging to the public.
They must strengthen their awareness campaigns to specifically resonate with those who refuse testing due to mistaken or ill-informed beliefs.
If people fail to report Covid-19 symptoms and refuse to have themselves tested, the chances of community transmission will increase — and the spread of the virus to elderly, vulnerable and immuno-compromised individuals will go undetected.
Therefore, it is extremely important that authorities communicate how crucial testing is, and show how citizens can responsibly play their part in curbing transmission by reporting themselves if they experience Covid-19 symptoms.
Hiding symptoms and failing to be tested will have catastrophic results in communities, especially since reports indicate that our healthcare systems are already overwhelmed.
Such fear and reluctance will only add to the spread of the virus, which has already taken more than 1,500 lives in Pakistan.


Spy games

IN the world of diplomacy, the declaration of consular staff as personae non grata by the host state is amongst the oldest tricks in the book designed to indicate displeasure with the sending state. And in the current atmosphere in South Asia, with Pakistan-India relations in a decidedly cool phase, such a move can only serve to further strain ties. Two staffers of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi have been declared personae non grata by India and asked to leave the country “for indulging in espionage activities”. Pakistan has rejected the claims as “false and unsubstantiated”. This is not the first instance of its kind, and whenever ties dip such moves are made, with the other state responding in similar fashion.
The dispensation that currently rules India is averse to peace with Pakistan and will find even the slightest excuse to cut or limit ties with this country. The Foreign Office has termed the Indian move part of a “pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign”. At a time when both states should be combining forces to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the region, India is vitiating the atmosphere by making such moves, and repeating the mantra of terrorism to implicate Pakistan, all the while making threatening moves along the LoC. Instead of cutting ties, efforts should be made to extend the hand of cooperation at a time when the world is facing an unprecedented contagion that knows no borders, ideologies or religions. Yet with Hindutva, the guiding light of the ruling BJP clique, statesmanship and vision cannot be expected. If India had any genuine concerns about certain staffers, they should have been communicated to Pakistan via diplomatic channels. Pakistan should react to this ill-advised move calmly and resist provocations designed to further vitiate the atmosphere in South Asia. The focus should be on maintaining peace in the region and dealing with the coronavirus threat. Moreover, provocative attempts designed to spark a confrontation should be avoided by the Indian establishment.


Agriculture mess

THE threat of food insecurity looms large as Pakistan faces multiple challenges to its agricultural sector, which despite its declining share in GDP remains the country’s economic backbone. Agriculture employs almost 40pc of the labour force and provides raw material for manufactured exports. It is also a major consumer of locally manufactured industrial goods including fertilisers, tractors, pesticides, etc. In recent years, the increase in the sale of cars, motorcycles, home appliances and other products have greatly depended on growth in farmers’ incomes. Unfortunately, successive governments have neglected agriculture at the peril of national food security and economic well-being. On top of this, changing climate patterns, and pests such as locust swarms, pose a new threat.
Decades of inconsistent and poor policy choices, and little investment in farm mechanisation, efficient irrigation systems and R&D have led to stagnation in yields and prevented farmers from moving towards value-added crops including fruit, vegetables, edible oils and fodder to increase their income. Some estimates show that nearly a third of crop produce is wasted in the harvesting period. The wastage in the case of perishable products is even greater because of poor storage facilities. The story of the livestock sector is no different. Pakistan is the world’s fifth largest milk producer and yet many families cannot afford it. A fifth of the total annual output is wasted, and the absence of laws to regulate its trade is hindering investment in the dairy industry. We also have one of the world’s largest cattle population. Yet the majority cannot afford meat. Nor have we been able to capitalise on the presence of a growing multibillion-dollar, global halal meat market.
Recently, the government approved a Rs50bn programme to help farmers access subsidised fertilisers, pesticides, cotton seed, locally manufactured tractors and bank loans. The package to be implemented through the provinces is part of the relief given by the centre to help the economy fight the adverse impact of the coronavirus. This is not the first scheme of its kind, nor will it be the last. But the scope and impact of such schemes is limited. While such measures may help governments cover up long-term, structural issues in agriculture, they don’t offer permanent solutions, which require investment in R&D to develop drought-resilient, high-yield quality seeds, training of farmers in water management, provision of soft loans to purchase equipment, and improvement in extension services to reduce the use of chemicals and increase soil fertility. Similarly, the government needs to enforce policies to increase milk and meat yields and laws to regulate their trade for investment in the supply chain. In other words, instead of wasting billions on inefficient subsidies, the government should tweak its policies to encourage development of competitive markets that eliminate the middleman, and enable farmers to buy inputs and sell their produce at the right prices.


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