THE government is mulling a relaxation of lockdown restrictions as it is confronted with alarming repercussions. Figures shared by Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar are indeed startling, as they suggest the closure of up to a million institutions, unemployment of 18m people and forcing 70m people below the poverty line. The picture painted by these numbers is one of sheer hopelessness — a scenario the government wants to understandably avoid. To further build a case to ease restrictions, Mr Umar said that Pakistan’s death rate is lower than other countries, and that the hot weather, BCG vaccine or anti-malaria drugs may be underlying factors. “We are living in a region which is blessed for an unknown reason,” he said, adding that many more people die in road accidents each month in Pakistan than they do to Covid-19. There is no doubt that a continued lockdown for an indefinite period will unleash crippling economic hardships on vast segments of the country’s already stressed population. The question now is whether Pakistan is ready to relax restrictions, and what these relaxations will look like.
The answer will come from the data. Pakistan’s confirmed coronavirus cases have crossed the20,500 mark with over 450 recorded deaths. These figures have been calculated after a total of 212,000 tests, with maximum daily testing at 9,500. At this rate, and with some lockdown restrictions still in place, nearly 10pc of those being tested are confirmed positive and 2pc of them are dying. If restrictions are lifted, these figures will worsen, because unlike traffic accidents, the number of coronavirus cases can expand exponentially. An individual with the virus can infect two to three others, and those infected can in turn transmit it to many more. If we are looking at a confirmed death rate of two out of every 100 right now, a situation in which millions are confirmed as having infections may result in a high number of deaths in a population where diabetes, heart disease and cancer are not uncommon. Our hospitals are simply not equipped to handle such a high volume of critical cases.
The practical way forward is mass testing and interim targeted relief for the worst-hit sectors. The government is still too far from its goal of 25,000 daily tests and therefore unaware of the true spread of infection. As it ramps up testing, it must also focus on developing strict, enforceable guidelines and affordable solutions to problems the common person faces when dealing with this unprecedented crisis. Even when the lockdown is lifted, the affluent can afford to stay home whereas low-income workers cannot, so they will unfairly face a higher risk. There are no easy solutions, but the government must be prudent as it walks the tightrope between limiting the loss of lives and loss of livelihoods.
PAKISTAN has done the right thing by approaching the UN to ask India to provide proof, if any, of its incessant propaganda about ‘terror launch pads’ on this country’s soil. After all, the UN already has a military observer group — UNMOGIP — to monitor the situation in the area, and it would not be too difficult for a neutral third party to evaluate the facts on the ground, should India be interested in determining the facts, that is.
Unfortunately, New Delhi has been using the ruse of ‘terror launch pads’ to step up LoC violations, with deadly results. According to the Foreign Office, there have been close to 940 LoC violations this year alone, most of which have targeted populated areas. A number of civilians in AJK have lost their lives since the start of the year due to India’s belligerence.
India has been whipping up a frenzy over alleged infiltration from Pakistan, with its civil and military leaders both using the ‘launch pads’ mantra to justify LoC violations. In such a scenario, a fact-finding probe overseen by the UN can help clear the air, as bilateral efforts have up till now not yielded much.
Moreover, in the current situation, it is imperative that both states assume a less threatening and more cooperative posture, as the Covid-19 pandemic knows no borders. The energies — financial, military and political — of both Pakistan and India at this point in time should be focused on battling the coronavirus, a common foe.
If India keeps on beating the drums of war and violating the LoC, Pakistan will respond as this country’s civil and military leaders have made clear. Such a scenario is sure to take away governmental focus from the pandemic.
It can only be described as a small mercy that up till now the death toll in both countries has been minimal compared to the horrific body counts coming out of Europe and the US. It should be remembered that far more advanced health systems in the West have been stretched to the limit due to Covid-19. If the contagion spreads further in South Asia and both governments are busy trading fire instead of fighting the pandemic, health systems in Pakistan, as well as India, may well collapse.
To avoid such a nightmare scenario, sabre-rattling must be eschewed, and India must pursue the path of dialogue instead of hurling unsubstantiated allegations.
PCB’s online initiative
THE Pakistan Cricket Board’s recent move to arrange online lectures by eight legendary cricketers for the benefit of younger players is a fine initiative. Great players including Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Mohammad Yousuf, Moin Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed, Rashid Latif, Shoaib Akhtar and Younis Khan are holding interactive online sessions with current and emerging Pakistani cricketers to help them remain motivated and keep their focus on the game during the lockdown period. With all major sporting events and tours either being postponed or cancelled owing to the unprecedented situation created by the coronavirus pandemic, experts and parent bodies of various sports are apprehensive that depression will set in among the athletes due to inaction. Cricketers, of course, are no exception, and the PCB deserves a lot of credit for coming up with an innovative programme thanks to which iconic players have started sharing their experiences, besides passing on useful tips to young bowlers, batsmen and wicket keepers to ensure that they remain connected to the game.
Lack of mental toughness has been a major challenge for Pakistani players during the past decade or so, especially during overseas tours, and has all too often resulted in brittle performances and defeats. It is unfortunate that previous PCB regimes have not done much to address this problem. Ideally, the team coaches should look into their problems but the players have often felt the need for a mentor to guide them or to share their concerns in moments of crisis. The impact of the online sessions is already evident from the recent statement made by the country’s newest pace sensation, 17-year-old Naseem Shah, who said that listening to inspiring stories from his role models is exciting and a rare opportunity to learn how tougher opponents should be tackled. If Pakistan’s three-Test tour of England, which is set to commence by the end of July, is on schedule, the online sessions by veteran cricketers will surely hold the current team in good stead.