- Brave, though a bit of a crapshoot
The government has taken a brave step by lifting the curbs on tourism and hospitality industry. The decision was taken in view of a significant reduction in infections and deaths after the third week of June. There are however fears of a second surge while the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) thinks that the step should have been taken after the end of Ashura.
Besides causing more than 282,000 confirmed cases and over 6,000 deaths, the coronavirus has also badly hit Pakistan’s business and industry. To put life in manufacturing, the government had announced considerable concessions for the construction sector as it is supposed to revive in turn several other industries. However, one has yet to witness significant activity in the industrial sector. The decision to encourage tourism is welcome as its revival can activate several other sectors that have remained dormant over the last five months. The hospitality sector which employs tens of thousands directly or through ancillaries is one. Except for a handful of high-end hotels which are functioning with a limited capacity, thousands of hotels in urban centres and tourist resorts have remained closed. Except for takeaways, the restaurants too have remained shut.
The decision to lift restrictions on railways, airlines and metro buses will help the return to normalcy. So will the opening up of parks, gyms and cinemas. There is a need now for a strict mechanism of oversight and punishment for those violating the SOPs.
The plan to open the educational institutions needs government attention now. The five-month-long closure of schools, colleges and universities has caused a lot of harm to the students. The attempt to remedy the losses through online learning has exposed the social and regional fault lines in the country. The children from lower-middle-class families who do not possess laptops were outright deprived of distance learning. In a number of tribal districts of KP internet facility is not available to the civilian population. In several districts of Balochistan the signals are too weak to be of any use. Unless the deficiencies are removed, the system as it exists would widen the gulf between sections of population and between the provinces.