Coronavirus and Spanish influenza | Pakistan Today

Coronavirus and Spanish influenza

  • Neighbourhoods must form committees to help the needy

Covid-19, with its exponential spread across the globe, is quite similar to the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-29 in regards to its symptoms and the way it affects the respiratory system of human beings and the causes of its spread. As for Covid-19, the symptoms include flu, fever and difficulty in breathing. In Spanish Influenza the patients developed the most viscous type of pneumonia, which made the patients to struggle for air until they suffocated. In the case of Covid-19, the virus mainly spreads through human gatherings, visits to crowded public places, shopping centres and the movement of the people from one place to another.

The global spread of the Spanish Influenza was also attributed to movements of troops during the World War I and the human carriers travelling along trade routes and shipping lines sweeping through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and South Pacific. In India the mortality rate was extremely high at around 50 deaths per 10,000 people. Spanish Influenza has been recorded as the most devastating epidemic in the world’s history. In the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world’s population was infected and it is estimated that 30-50 million people lost their lives.

It is really hard to predict at the moment how long it will take to get rid of the corona virus and how many lives it will consume across the globe until an effective vaccine against it could be developed and made available to all the affected countries .As the things stand at the moment the experts believe that the best weapon against the spread of the virus is ‘containment’ through lockdowns and extreme social distancing as may be deemed necessary under the prevailing circumstances.

The situation in Pakistan, though aggravating with every passing day, is not as bad as in European countries, as rightly pointed out by the Prime Minister, and does not warrant a complete lockdown right now as being suggested by different circles. But God forbid, if the situation deteriorates like in the European countries, Pakistan will be left with no choice to go for complete lockdown which would become an inescapable eventuality

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes that China’s battle with the coronavirus offers a beacon of hope for the rest of the word. In January, China resorted to shutting down Wuhan and placed its 11 million residents in effective quarantine —a move then replicated in the rest of Hubel province, putting 50 million people in mass isolation. China has reported only one new local infection over the past four days, a seemingly remarkable turnaround given the chaos that surrounded the initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

Following the logic of containment and not replicating the Chinese model lock stock and barrel, the European countries are using extreme social distancing and home quarantines in varying degrees to contain the spread of virus. The USA and European countries, in spite of their economic strength and state of the art health facilities, have not gone for complete lockdown like the China as it involves enormous social and economic costs which only a country like China can afford to implement. For the foregoing reasons, the less developed countries like Pakistan neither have the capacity to enforce complete lockdowns nor the resources to defray the costs involved in dealing with the consequences of such actions. They will surely need help from the affluent global community to confront the challenge.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly and justifiably asked the developed nations to write off the loans given to the less developed countries. His contention of not enforcing a complete lockdown also has considerable merit. Forty percent of our population lives below the poverty line. Such an action would make the lives of daily wage earners, labourers and the indigent extremely difficult. The government in spite of its willingness and commitment to mitigate the suffering of this section of the society simply does not have the resources to fulfill its obligations.

However, it is pertinent to point out that it was not lacking in the commitment to save the lives of the people. It has taken all the required administrative measures, mobilized the health service and facilities at its command to contain the virus, set up an effective mechanism to update the people on the developing situation and continuously putting out instructions regarding the preventive measure that the people need to take to supplement the efforts of the government in this regard. It has also announced a stimulus and relief package of Rs 1200 billion including Rs.200 billion for payment of monthly stipend of Rs 3000 to 12 million labourers and daily wagers.

There is no denying the fact that the efforts of the government can succeed only when the people extend full cooperation to them, particularly in the case of national emergencies like the one we are facing at the moment. They must follow the preventive measures being disseminated by the government sources and take the challenge with the seriousness that it warrants. It is indeed a very precarious situation, but as the Prime Minister has repeatedly advised, there is no need for panic. The challenge can be met collectively with unwavering determination to fight it out. As they say, the character of a nation is tested in times of adversity. We must stand united with steely determination to mitigate the impact of corona related devastation.

The situation in Pakistan, though aggravating with every passing day, is not as bad as in European countries, as rightly pointed out by the Prime Minister, and does not warrant a complete lockdown right now as being suggested by different circles. But God forbid, if the situation deteriorates like in the European countries, Pakistan will be left with no choice to go for complete lockdown which would become an inescapable eventuality.

In case that situation really arises, it would be extremely difficult for the government to reach out to each and every person and family which needs financial or other assistance. My suggestion is that in anticipation of such an eventuality emerging, the best way to deal with the situation would be to mobilize and motivate the masses to form committees at the level of their localities to identify the deserving people who would need help during the period of lockdown and also take care of them using the resources generated through donations and even Zakat by the affluent people of the locality supplemented by government contributions. This community participation will lessen the financial burden of the government to a considerable extent and also eliminate the chances of pilferage and fraud.



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