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The Express Tribune Editorial 18 May 2020

Hope amid virus gloom

With pandemic gloom surrounding all of us, a ray of hope has lately emerged. A potentially promising therapy to treat patients infected with Covid-19 has yielded fruitful result this week following successful clinical trials. The first Covid-19 patient, who had received plasma therapy, has fully recovered at isolation ward in Liaquat University Hospital (LUH) Jamshoro and was ready to be discharged. The patient whose successful recovery has kindled hope in other critically ill Covid-19 patients was donated the plasma by a cured patient on May 3.
With coronavirus vaccine at least 12 to 18 months away and sharp rise in cases, this success should be seen as a seminal breakthrough in the fight against the contagion. “The patient’s first sample was taken on May 13 and then another was collected on May 14 and both turned out to be negative. We are now in the process of discharging him from Covid-9 isolation ward. But he will have to stay in the hospital’s medicine intensive care unit (ICU) in view of his co- morbidities,” said a senior doctor at the hospital.
Having recovered, the patient has become the first to successfully receive plasma therapy in LUH after its clinical trial was approved by Sindh government in April as a part of passive immunisation suggested by noted hematologist Dr Tahir Shamsi. “After convalescent plasma therapy on May 3 under government permission for clinical trial on experimental basis, the patient’s condition had improved considerably, otherwise he had been serious,” said the doctor. According to an encyclopedia entry, plasma is the often-forgotten part of blood. White blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are important to body function, but plasma also plays a key role. This fluid carries the blood components throughout the body.
Some health organisations call plasma ‘the gift of life’. It is a critical part of the treatment for many serious health problems. This is why there are blood drives asking people to donate blood plasma.


Another cut in interest rate


The State Bank of Pakistan announced another cut, of 100 basis points, in its policy rate ahead of the weekend, bringing it down to 8% from 13.25% pre-Covid. The central bank hopes the cut will be enough to provide some support to the economy, which is being battered by the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown. The bank’s decision was helped by the fact that the inflation rate has also been on the decline, thanks largely to decreasing fuel prices. Unfortunately, the bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC), which announced the rate cut, also acknowledged the limitations to whatever fixes it can attempt. This is because of the “non-economic origin” of the current economic predicament, and the fact that a “temporary disruption of economic activity” was required to address it.
While the move could potentially stimulate some economic activity, the bank is hamstrung by the fact that easy access to credit is still limited in the country, especially at consumer-level. The bank may pat itself on the back over how “successive policy rate cuts and sizeable cheap loans provided through the SBP’s enhanced refinancing facilities have helped maintain credit flows, bolster the cash flow of borrowers, and support asset prices”, but this is a stop-gap arrangement, not a solution. As far as business lending goes, while loans may help them brave through a rough patch, much like consumers, it will still be difficult for them to survive unless their incomes return to normal levels soon. That cannot happen until we move past the lockdown phase.
While the bank’s policies provide a temporary cushion, amid a lockdown, there is little it can do to avoid the predicted economic contraction for this fiscal year, or even bolster the estimates for next year. That task goes to the government, and its planning remains debatable. Even the ‘positive’ of declining inflation was not of its own doing. Despite the global oil price crash, the inflation rate for April 2020 was actually higher than the same month last year, when fuel prices were stable. The fact of the matter is that any recovery will be dependent on international support, and international support will be dependent on effective policymaking by the government.


Towards a digital future

The onset of the Information Age, during the late 20th century, ushered the decline of industrialisation as the world witnessed a rapid transition from traditional industries to information technology. With the widespread use of the internet, businesses, governments and industries started shifting to online platforms in order to store massive quantities of data. The subsequent birth of the virtual world, contemporarily known as the cloud, brought about a radical shift in how societies functioned. The world today is more powerful than ever as cellphones and computers have changed the way we interact.
Third world countries, however, are having a hard time trying to integrate to virtual platforms as they face a plethora of social issues. But many claim the use of digital technologies is essential for economic prosperity and global competition, which could help combat these problems in the long run. In Pakistan, the district administration of Punjab is at the forefront of trying to digitalise public services under the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2019. The initiative is expected to be completed within the next few weeks after which the government will introduce 12 Management Information Systems to help empower citizens by making them active participants in administrative affairs. These online administrative platforms will surely help reduce human dependency and increase efficiency as citizens will now have the opportunity to report issues online.
While the initiative is a step in the right direction, two important aspects need to be considered. One, authorities should acknowledge the privacy of civilian information and make sure secure measures are in place so that such information is only used for registration and identification purposes. Two, the government needs to make sure that internet facilities are easily available to everyone. There is also a serious need to create technological awareness as the poor lacks any form of technological knowledge. It is important to make sure that the system is all-inclusive.
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