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The Express Tribune Editorial 30 March 2020

Stop panic buying

For Pakistan — an under-developed country facing multiple problems on the fronts of economics, politics and security — the deadly coronavirus is a formidable opponent. Nearly 25% of the country’s population lives below the national poverty line while a further 39% are poor, living in deplorable conditions. The local healthcare system of the country is in shambles and expectations lie with private hospitals that mostly cater to the rich. While the government scrambles for testing kits and PPE, frontline doctors are risking their lives to save people. Sindh is under a strict lockdown and the cases across the country are steadily increasing. The government is working tirelessly to make sure the situation doesn’t escalate. Let’s be clear; this pandemic is nothing short of a war. And in such situations, everyone has a role to play.
In anticipation of the deteriorating situation, the people of Karachi have started to stock up food supplies which caused the demand for food items to suddenly surge by 7% this week. Half the population is vulnerable to the virus and if such people cannot afford basic necessities during the lockdown it will wreak havoc in the city. It is our responsibility to be patient in this time of crisis. According to Anis Majeed, patron-in-chief of the Karachi Wholesale Grocers Association, “Food supply is in abundance” and “truckloads of food are being sent constantly — so no need to panic”. The government has insured an “integrated full spectrum response” and is making decisions accordingly.
Trust and unity are the need of the hour and the last thing that citizens want to do is become an obstacle for authorities and frontline workers through panic buying. The regulation and circulation of basic necessities to all citizens is necessary in order to achieve a successful lockdown. Remember, the virus does not discriminate. The most important thing right now is to control the spread till the graph flattens.


In trouble — again

Barely a month after former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) top leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi won court reprieve following a pretty long seven-month incarceration, he faces the prospect of again being pushed behind bars. The trouble for the veteran politician appears not yet over. An accountability court on Friday issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for Abbasi, the senior vice president of the PML-N, in a fresh reference filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for allegedly appointing Sheikh Imranul Haq as managing director of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) in violation of rules during his tenure as petroleum minister. The new reference is filed a month after the former prime minister had secured bail from the Islamabad High Court in another reference accusing him of flouting rules when he had awarded the contract for an LNG terminal during his tenure as petroleum minister.
Not surprisingly, the party saw it as part of the government’s witch-hunt campaign to hound its political adversaries, although the country’s top anti-graft watchdog works independently of government’s control. PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif was livid at what he usually refers to as NAB-Niazi nexus for “fighting the media and the opposition” instead of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than contesting the charges for which Abbasi faces the new arrest warrant, the party head chose to attack the government for its perceived hand behind the NAB move. “While the world was focused on curbing the spread of the disease, the PTI government’s priority was to send its rivals to jail,” he thundered. “This is not the time for political shows.”
NAB had informed the Supreme Court in December 2018 that Haq’s appointment was based on “favouritism and personal friendship through a tailor-made advertisement, as he had no experience in the field of oil marketing”. Be that as it may, we are inclined to suggest that the party will do well if it fights the case in court and gets its leader cleared instead of muddying the political waters at a time when all sections of society need to join forces in tackling the threat of corona contagion.


The other disruption

As the world struggles to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a greater challenge to our coexistence that might be ignored. While some countries are experiencing the steepest growth in cases, there is a steady rise in right-wing agenda which perhaps is more dangerous than the virus itself. Leaders of countries like Brazil are investing heavily in protecting their regime by weaving an alternative narrative around the health crisis. In one statement Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tried to reassure his citizens over the threat of coronavirus by claiming Brazilians can bathe in excrement “and nothing happens”. A far-right populist, Bolsonaro has dismissed the idea that his country’s economy, which is the biggest in Latin America, could soon face a situation as severe as the US, where there have been more than 100,000 infected cases and 1,500 deaths. Bolsonaro, also went on to claim that Brazilians have the antibodies that prevent the Covid-19 virus.
There is no dearth of such leadership around the world at this moment. President Donald Trump himself has referred to the virus as a hoax and even blamed China for spreading it. Trump’s comments triggered a series of hate crimes against the Asian-American community across the country. Not only that, in the latest presidential faux pas, Trump went for an all-out push to advance unproven coronavirus treatments with risky malaria drugs, dividing the medical community and certainly encouraging ordinary citizens to experiment with their lives. If this isn’t alarming enough, some hardliners are using the virus to advance their caustic agenda against minority communities. In a world dominated by far-right leaders, the virus may have arrived at the right time and is certainly welcomed. Over the next few weeks and months, as the world battles the deadly virus, there is a greater challenge that needs attention and that is the uninterrupted flow of disruptive ideas from the far-right.


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