- Much more needs to be done
The fast spread of the coronavirus makes it urgent to initiate large scale testing of the perceived cases to locate all virus carriers in the country and isolate them in properly quarantined camps. This cannot be done without a countrywide lockdown first which alone can limit interaction between the virus carriers and healthy citizens, thus bringing down the currently phenomenal rate of increase in the number of the patients. The PM wants voluntary self-isolation without recourse to coercive measures like a curfew. Experience has amply shown that the social intermixing cannot be stopped by preaching alone. After a day-long “janta curfew” India too found it could not be sustained voluntarily and announced a countrywide lockdown. This explains why an otherwise reluctant Punjab government too has been persuaded to go for a lockdown for 14 days.
The number of those who will be adversely affected by the lockdown would no doubt run into millions. The Sindh government has taken a number of measures to alleviate their hardships. More are under consideration. The PM has announced a direct relief of Rs 3,0000 for seven million vulnerable families. An additional Rs 5 billion have been allocated to the Utility Stores Corporation to continue providing essential goods at affordable rates. The reduction in the prices of petroleum products by Rs 15 per litre only is somewhat miserly. Had it been above 30 percent it would have led to a perceptible reduction in the prices of commodities of everyday use.
The stimulus package for industries includes the policy rate cut by 150 basis points to 11 percent, deferred debt-service payments, sales tax refunds and Rs 10 billion for small and medium size enterpises and agriculture. The measures would provide a significant relief to the industrialists with the expectation that they would preserve jobs and pass part of the profits on to the industrial workers during the testing times ahead . What remains to be seen is whether the government can ensure that a part of the benefits reaches the industrial workforce. The federal government needs to take note of the measures being devised by Sindh government to provide food to the needy during the lockdowns and implement the scheme, keeping in view the concrete conditions in every province and region outside Sindh.