Contradictory statistics | Pakistan Today

Contradictory statistics

  • Consistency in number key to project virus spread

It was an unedifying sight. The federal Ministry for National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination told the Supreme Court that it expected 50,000 cases of COVID-19 by the end of April, while the Punjab government gave out a different figure. Later, SAPM on Health Zafar Mirza explained that even his own ministry’s figure was merely an estimate calculated on the basis of assumptions, and appealed to the public not to panic on the basis of these assumption-based figures. The discrepancy is clearly disturbing. The fecklessness shown by the government is jaw-dropping. Why are estimates based on incorrect assumptions being fed to one or the other government?

Somebody should realize that the government obtains these figures for a purpose; in this case possible requirements to treat patients. Having inaccurate figures is as bad as having no figures, as incorrect figures means bad plans. The only possible situation where plans do not matter is if there is to be no action, and in the present crisis, that is not an option. Assumptions will affect calculations, so it is not a matter of which government, federal or provincial, is better at arithmetic, but of whose figures are to be accepted. Though the decision is the federal government’s, it must be decided that one figure is followed, so that all authorities plan on the basis of a mutually agreed figure, which is duly shared by all.

Indeed, the government should not just ensure that its provinces agree among themselves, but that it agrees with other countries on the future projections. Such agreement will be essential to everyone to ensure a uniform approach to the pandemic. As Pakistan has two of the earliest and worst affected countries, Iran and China, to its east and north, it should be least complacent about tackling the pandemic with all its resources. And that includes having reasonably accurate figures and reasonably good assumptions on which to generate the kind of projections that would help plan future policy. Having bad projections to prevent public panic is about as shortsighted as it gets. The only thing possibly worse is having different projections.