- An unnecessary argument
Now that the Punjab government has locked down the province, a mere two days after Prime Minister Imran Khan had ruled out any such reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic, the debate over whether it suits the country or not should be put to rest. In short, it doesn’t, but it has to be done given the current circumstances. This was the only way to approach the situation if we had decided already to follow the best international responses to COVID-19. However, the delay that has taken place will come at a cost. An opportunity to restrict the movement of people earlier that would have minimized the spread of the disease has been missed, the consequences of which will become apparent in the coming weeks. Other provinces also under PTI rule will follow suit. After announcing the lockdown, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar, repeated twice that this is not a lockdown, adding to the confusion. PM Khan at a press briefing yesterday did refer to it as a lockdown claiming that a partial lockdown had already been in place for the past few weeks. He insists that ‘panic is more dangerous than the Coronavirus’. Such a major shift in policy in a matter of hours displays a level of confusion and indecisiveness that does not inspire much confidence in the government’s ability to address this unprecedented crisis; it spreads panic rather than restricting it. This perhaps necessitated that the armed forces, apart from being deployed in cities under Article 245 of the constitution, had to present a clearer picture of what the country will be facing in the days to come, through the DG ISPR.
A relief package amounting to almost Rs 1.3 Trillion has been approved to provide support to individuals and businesses in the aftermath of the Coronavirus. This includes a further 150 basis point cut in the discount rate to bring it to 11 percent. Rs150 billion will be distributed at the rate of Rs3000/month over a period of four months to help the poorest families. Not only is the stipend insufficient, it is unclear how the recipients will be identified. The government has to start taking the lead in this crisis, so far it seems to be constantly trying to catch up.