Prime Minister Imran Khan has reiterated his firm position that there will be no full lockdown in the country as a measure to fight novel coronavirus which has claimed the lives of 25 Pakistanis, besides infecting nearly 1,900 others, as of Tuesday. The Prime Minister — while addressing the nation for a third time in about two weeks — based his stance on the argument that the 25% population of the country living below the poverty line would not be able to withstand such a harsh measure; and since a cash-strapped government is in no position to cater to them, a lockdown would not be sustainable.
The first time Prime Minister Imran had ruled out a lockdown, he had drawn a severe reaction from almost all quarters — but not this time around. This may have been because of a low number of cases of the infection and fatalities in the country currently, in comparison with the numbers in the neighbouring Iran as well as developed countries like the US, the UK, Italy and Spain. However, this relatively comfortable situation in our country must not turn the government complacent, and the PM and his whole team must keep a vigilant eye on the situation as it develops and be open to the option of beefing up the lockdown if and when needed.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, also announced several measures as part of the government’s response to contain the virus. The measures include a PM’s Corona Relief Fund, assuring tax relief on donations and exemption from declaring the source of funding; a Corona Tiger Force to work alongside law-enforcers and administration personnel for provision of relief to those in need; provision of loans from SBP to the business concerns not terminating their employees; and opening up registration for those needing ration and those willing to provide it on the Facebook page of the Ehsaas programme.
It’s good to see the PM mobilise the government machinery to deal with the corona crisis. But national calamities demand a national response. While there was the need to come up a collective national action, the PM’s response package is richly embossed with PTI insignias like Tiger Force and Ehsaas programme.
It’s a point to ponder, and to ponder seriously. Environmental and public health experts have drawn the government’s attention to piling of garbage in Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh. They have asked the authorities to resume the halted waste disposal activities in the province as uncleared garbage could be a recipe for disaster in the midst of the raging coronavirus pandemic. Naeem Qureshi, the president of the National Forum for Environment and Health, says it is like inviting a disaster if disposal of waste is stopped during an epidemic. The uncollected waste would worsen public health issues in the prevailing situation; it would undo the efforts being made towards containing the deadly virus. Other experts have voiced similar concerns.
The Sindh government has exempted the local government department, municipal agencies, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, the KWSB, and the KMC from the lockdown. The experts have asked the government that those engaged in clearing waste should be provided with protective gears for their safety. According to one estimate, Karachi generates 12,000 tonnes of trash per day. Considering the devastation uncleared garbage could cause in the presence of the deadly virus, the Sindh government should order resumption of clearing of trash on an emergency basis. It would make its proactive campaign against Covid-19 more effective.
Even in normal circumstances, lack of cleanliness plays havoc with people’s lives. There are many such instances from the past from different parts of the world when epidemics broke out causing death and devastation on a large scale. Around 20 years ago, a virulent plague epidemic had broken out in the city of Surat in Gujarat state of India due to piling of garbage. Perhaps, this was the last plague epidemic reported in the world in the recent past. Then there was no such thing as the coronavirus pandemic. This is no time for politicking. Coronavirus does not discriminate, so do other epidemic diseases.