We are living in unbelievable times.
“Wishing all our Christian citizens a happy Easter. Please stay safe and keep your families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by praying and celebrating at home; and by observing the national safety protocols,” tweeted Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan earlier today. The reality of coronavirus hits you hard when you read this tweet. Churches not just all over the country, but also in major parts of the world, are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A World Bank (WB) report on South Asia released last night is alarming. It says that Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and other smaller countries may have so far reported relatively few coronavirus cases but they could be the next hotspots.
“The economic outlook for South Asia is dire. South Asia will likely experience the worst economic performance of the last 40 years… for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the full range of their forecast GDP growth for this fiscal year is in negative territory,” says the report. It says that Pakistan may face a recession for the first time in 68 years.
The report further states that the crisis will reinforce inequality in South Asia. This is something that the premier has constantly been worried about. The poorest of the poor will suffer the most is what he kept telling us about in his addresses to the nation as well as media briefings and interactions.
This is indeed a catch-22 situation. Like his counterparts in other South Asian countries, PM Imran is in unchartered territory and is trying to deal with the pandemic by learning from other countries’ successes as well as mistakes and also by keeping in mind the local ground realities. He seemed confused about lockdown initially but later, and maybe soon enough, realised that there was no other choice. The federal government, as well as the provincial governments, will decide tomorrow (Monday) whether lockdown in the country should be extended.
Many reports suggest that it may be extended till April 21.
As the WB report suggests, smaller nations like Pakistan could be the next hotspot for coronavirus. Lockdowns may have helped to a great extent but we also need aggressive testing. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened as we don’t have enough testing kits. Reports suggest some of these testing kits have also turned out to be faulty and/or substandard. Not having enough kits also points to another aspect, i.e. protectionism. The Global Trade Alert project says at least 69 countries have banned or restricted the export of protective equipment, medical devices or medicines during the pandemic while the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned protectionism could limit the global availability of vaccines.
While the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan are doing their best under the circumstances and with the resources at hand, the real challenge lies in finding a cure for coronavirus. These are difficult times indeed and the predictions related to the coming months are not too bright either.
Since it might soon be too late for all precautionary measures, stay home and stay safe for yourself and your dear ones.