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The Express Tribune Editorial 25 April 2020

Ramazan amid pandemic

Ramazan begins in Pakistan today, though parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province lived up to their decades-long practice and started observing the holy month a day earlier. This shows that nothing — not even an unprecedented crisis resulting from a novel pandemic — can unite us on something that has been a non-issue for the rest of the Muslim world.
Anyways, the fasting month is here, and it’s sure going to be different this time. It’s Ramazan amid lockdown — partial, smart or full. All prayers in mosques — including Taraweeh — will be offered under the SOPs, agreed upon between the federal government and ulema, meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. Sindh has, however, gone a step ahead, banning all congregational prayers inside mosques to protect people from the mushrooming infection. Azans will continue and only mosques’ prayer leaders, muezzins and other staffers will offer prayers inside the mosques.
The Sindh government’s decision on congregational prayers has been necessitated by a 79% surge in the local transmission of the virus over the past few days. Doctors from all over the country are sounding alarm bells about what they see as an imminent peak in the number of coronavirus cases a month or so down the line. The only way to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, they say, from becoming unmanageable is to put in place a strict lockdown. Medical experts have warned that if social distancing is not practised, this might result in chaos — a situation in which it would be very difficult to provide treatment to all the affectees.
In what addresses the concerns of health experts some way, the President, the Prime Minister and other government functionaries as well as renowned ulema and religious scholars have been advising the public to offers prayers at home. To facilitate those who would want to perform Taraweeh at home, Pakistan Television has arranged for daily live telecast of the prayers.
Our religion asks its followers not to intentionally expose themselves to life-threatening situations. Those who are not practising social distancing are only failing to realise the gravity of the situation.


Moody’s forecast

What the Moody’s Investors Service says in its latest assessment of Pakistan’s economy sounds pretty heartening. According to the top US credit rating agency, Pakistan’s economic growth will — under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic — shrink much lesser than what the State Bank of Pakistan, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank anticipate. Moody’s says it expects Pakistan’s real GDP to contract only modestly — by 0.1-0.5% in the ongoing fiscal year — as against extremely worrying predictions made by the mentioned financial institutions, including the World Bank that sees Pakistan’s economic growth rate falling into a negative zone.
The Moody’s encouraging forecast is based on a few steps taken by the federal government to offset the impact of a month-long coronavirus lockdown in the country that has started easing from April 15. The first and foremost is the government’s permission to labour-intensive industries like agriculture, construction and textile to resume operations — something that is likely to aid a gradual recovery in domestic consumption.
Moody’s assessment also takes into account certain steps taken by the SBP which are expected to “further buffer the economic shock related to coronavirus”. These steps include bringing down the benchmark interest rate to 9% from 13.25% over a period of 30 days to provide cheaper working capital to the businesses in a bid to spur commercial activities; besides launching certain schemes for providing easy loans to industrial and construction sectors as well as to the owners of business concerns to help them retain their employees.
Further, Moody’s expects that a gradual revival in economic activities in Pakistan will help the country’s economy “to grow by more than 2%” in the next fiscal year. However, a lot will depend upon the government’s persistence with the ease in economic lockdown, given the fears that the coronavirus pandemic is all set to peak over the next couple of months.


Virus ‘here to stay’

Despite the lockdowns that have crippled economies across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is still a long way to go to defeat the virus as most countries are still in the early stages of dealing with the pandemic. With businesses going belly-up and millions of workers laid off or working shortened hours, the UN is also warning that the world is facing “a humanitarian catastrophe”. It doesn’t help that farm output is also down, and with supply chains and points of sale all affected by the virus, food prices are rising while profits are falling. Widespread hunger and starvation has become a very likely scenario.
And with a world hoping for some good news, hearing WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus say “make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time” is hardly reassuring. Unfortunately, it is true, which means we must reexamine how and when we will ever have a chance to recover from the crippling impact of the virus. Even the world’s richest country is struggling. Barely able to handle its domestic virus situation, the US economy is tanking, and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield believes, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
Globalisation was supposed to raise the Third World up to acceptable living standards, not pull the First World down to Third World standards. But with no vaccine in sight till at least next March, according to US and EU medical experts, there is a legitimate fear for how much more the world can afford to lose before it is too late. We knew we would never get the dead back. This is why most countries were willing to accept the lockdowns at first. But as it becomes increasingly likely that we may never get our economies back, new solutions are needed.
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