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The Express Tribune Editorial 25 March 2020

A conspiracy of idiocy


Stories about people defying lockdown orders in countries battling the Covid-19 coronavirus have now become commonplace, but fear not, for Pakistanis are still holding their own. We had the initial reports of people failing to adhere to self-quarantine by going out to public events after arriving from abroad. That was bad but only the tip of the iceberg, as we now have people holding weddings in defiance of lockdown orders. But at least now, they are facing some penalties. Recently, a case was registered against two people for arranging a valima ceremony at home in Faisalabad. At least 110 people were at the event when local officials arrived and shut it down. Similarly, a Sialkot mosque was the scene of a raid after it was found that the venue was hosting another valima. The groom got to spend the night behind bars.
Then there are regular images of crowded streets, people playing in parks, mass prayers and other public gatherings. The participants are usually young people, who are less likely to show severe symptoms but could carry the disease to immune-compromised people, especially the elderly. In a society where respect for the elderly is almost sacred, we must ask: do these people hate their grandparents? Even government officials are being punished for violating lockdown orders. At least six Sindh revenue officials in Khairpur were suspended for taking a selfie with a colleague who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Part of the problem, simply put, is idiocy. Umrah pilgrimage to the Holy Kaaba has been suspended, yet our people claim the virus is a conspiracy to bar them from praying at their local mosque. They post videos on social media talking up how they will defy the ban, then come down to earth when the police knock on their doors. They say death will come when God wills it, then go out inviting death, and suddenly become upset when they or a loved-one gets sick. “Why didn’t anyone tell me corona was so dangerous?” they then ask.


Manpower export

As is the wont of governments in most developing countries, the government of Pakistan has not been able to send either technical personnel for further on-job training, or workers for jobs, to Japan even a year after it signed agreements with the government of Japan in this connection. In February 2019, the governments of Pakistan and Japan had signed two agreements — one pertaining to a technical internship programme and the other to export of skilled workers. Under the first category, technical personnel were to be sent to Japan for further training; they were to benefit from Japan’s technical and scientific skills and knowledge.
Japan had announced 345,000 such openings from all over the world, and had signed memorandums of cooperation with 11 countries. This arrangement is to continue for five years, and, if needed, would be extended for another five years. Under the second category, skilled workers were to get jobs in Japan. Around 70,000 jobs were available in Japan for workers from 70 countries. The government of Pakistan has authorised the state-owned National Vocational & Technical Training Commission and the National University of Technology to recommend aspirants for skill enhancement in Japan.
There are, however, conflicting views on the issue. According to the executive director of the technical university, things have been delayed because they have not received demand from Japanese enterprises. When his attention was drawn to what Japanese diplomats say on the issue was just the reverse of what he says. He said, “I don’t think so the Japanese diplomats think so.” The coronavirus pandemic cannot be held accountable for the delay involved in materialising the agreements. The agreements were inked in Feb 2019 and coronavirus emerged on the scene in November. Now at this stage when the pandemic is accelerating, Japan can, obviously, do nothing to take in trainees and foreign workers.


Lockdown finally


Coronavirus has finally forced the whole of Pakistan into a lockdown. The emergency step — taken for about two weeks, to start with — has unfortunately exposed an appalling lack of unity within our civilian leadership even in the times of an unprecedented crisis. Only hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an address to the nation on Sunday, ruled out closing down cities and towns in view of the country’s poor economy and advocated self-quarantine as the “best precautionary measure”, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced locking down the entire province and sought help from the armed forces to ensure people stay at home. A day later, on Tuesday, the other three provinces — interestingly all led by the PTI — as well as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan followed suit. And in a quick response, the armed forces expressed their readiness to come out in support of the civilian rulers — just as they have done in case of the various calamities to have hit the country, like floods and earthquakes.
Now with the lockdown debate put to rest and the nation having moved into a social distancing mode, the most important question is: what next? Notwithstanding the need for an economic relief package to offset the impact of an all-closed in the country, the rulers are required to focus on what all is required to fight the novel virus on the medical front. Since we are in for a spike in the number of infections, we need to dedicate spaces to operate as quarantine zones and isolation centres all across the country. “Test, test, test” is the “key message” by WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. And there can be no tests without the diagnostic kits. So there is this most urgent need to invest in these kits and arrange them in an extremely big number. Equally important is to equip our courageous medical practitioners with protective gears.
However, without the cooperation of the people, the lockdown will not be to serve the purpose of social distancing which is so far the only way to prevent this deadly virus from spreading, given that an anti-virus, being worked on by the scientists in many countries of the world, is a long way to come about.
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