- Moving forward safely and with caution
Pakistan, through some miracle, has pulled off an impressive recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that hit the country hard, reaching its peak in mid-June. The PTI government’s response prior to that point had left much to be desired. When the first cases emerged there was a gross underestimation in the assessment of the lethality of the virus, a resistance towards an enforced national lockdown, a generally lax attitude when it came to containment before deaths started to increase and a propensity to blame the ‘people’s ignorance’ for not taking the pandemic seriously that allowed it to spread. The number of fatalities has continued to drop for weeks, with only 9 deaths reported yesterday while only 330 new confirmed cases were recorded. Even if one were to aggressively multiply these figures to adjust for under-reporting, it still translates into a commendable achievement given how countries in the region that are comparable to Pakistan are not faring so well. Prime Minister Imran Khan fiercely rejected recommendations of a curfew-like lockdown, fearing that it would destroy the economy and many would die hungry, going instead with a ‘smart lockdown’, allowing essential industries to remain open.
With the pandemic now receding, perhaps it is time to open up other industries as well. The service sector has taken a severe beating during the pandemic worldwide and Pakistan is no exception. Businesses such as hotels and restaurants have been shut down for months and only those with enough savings have been able to pay the fixed costs with minimum revenue coming in, while others have been forced to close shop. Sectors that have been allowed to operate relatively freely, so long as they follow state-recommended SOPs that aren’t enforced, have not had to face such financial distress. It seems unfair then that a sector of the economy that employs millions is not being offered an opportunity to open up under strict guidelines, now that it is relatively safer to do so. Not only would this generate much-needed economic activity but also save a lot of businesses from going bankrupt. All this would have to be done conservatively, safely and with input from relevant stakeholders. Only then a move towards the new normal can begin.