- Steps taken could have been more practical
The second wave of the covid-19 pandemic is upon us, and the ban on commercial activities after 11 pm imposed in 11 cities is recognition of that fact by the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC). It is a relief that the NCOC has so far obeyed the scientific consensus by making the wearing of face-masks compulsory, but this might not be possible to enforce, even with the penalty of a fine of between Rs 6000 and Rs 35,000, with up to six months imprisonment. It might not be appropriate to go into the efficacy of facemasks. Not only is the jury out on that, but in many countries, it is a political question.
However, making them compulsory might not be feasible for the very people Prime Minster Imran Khan professed so much concern that he rushed the re-opening of the economy: the daily wagers, small shopkeepers and all those who earn their living on a daily basis. These are the people who might not be able to afford the expense of a mask a day, and thus be liable to these punishments, or more likely, to the depredations of the police. It would have been more proactive of NCOC if it had made the provision of free facemasks an official responsibility. It should not be forgotten that even if one was to accept the claims made for the masks, their use lies in preventing wearers from spreading the coronavirus, and thus breaking the transmission chain. Thus free facemasks not only helps the freeloading wearers, but also those who come into contact with them.
That a second wave was round the corner was obvious, and now is the time to be more vigilant than ever before. Pakistan’s having escaped the worst effects before means that it is paradoxically more vulnerable to a second wave, as the pool of those who could be infected is all that much larger. Historically, the second wave of an epidemic may well be worse than the initial one. Pakistan has not been as badly hit in the first wave as other countries in the region. Only if the whole country keeps its guard up will it come out of the second wave without being too badly damaged.