While Pakistan is menaced by a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the delta variant of the virus, the federal and Sindh governments seemed headed towards another confrontation like the one which marked the beginning of the pandemic. While the federal government, through NCOC head Federal Minister Asad Umar, has huffily rejected placing the country under a lockdown, the Sindh government has said that it was contemplating just such a measure as deaths rise and positivity rates continue to stay at unbelievable levels. This is happening even as new vaccine-related restrictions come into place. There will be no ban on air travel, but from Sunday, no one will be allowed to travel unless vaccinated. Teachers (as well as all government servants) have until August 31 to get vaccinated.
There is another complication which neither seems to have considered. The matriculation and intermediate examinations have been announced, and Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood has been blunt in the refusal to postpone them. The federal government’s desire to avoid a lockdown is understandable. The plea is that the economic damage would be immense. The federal government’s fear is probably that that damage would cost it electorally. The Sindh government may feel that its better handling will stand the PPP in good stead in other provinces. However, what should be paramount is the lives that must be saved. The PTI must remember that it will not be judged by its cleverness, but by its willingness to save lives. The extent of destruction seen in India, where bodies were being piled on pavements and cremation grounds and cemeteries were turning away bodies, has not happened in Pakistan, but looms.
The only way out is for the government to be ready to do what it takes. The federal government must also be careful that it does not get involved in the kind of unedifying conflict with the Sindh government that bede billed the national response to the covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately the fourth wave will not remain restricted to Karachi. It will inevitably move upwards, to Punjab and Sindh, which have PTI governments. The NCOC must be ready to take the steps needed, including complete lockdowns.