STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

The difference between the rich and the poor has never been more glaring in Pakistan. The rich are emptying shelves of their favorite super markets and urging a lock down. The poor are losing sleep over how they will feed their family should such a lock down happen. The air we breathe is the only common factor between these two classes of our society that grow apart each day.

I have been following closely and writing on this global pandemic. This aggressive virus has now reached all corners of the world. Wuhan is no longer the epicenter. China reported today that for the first time since the pandemic began; there were no new locally transmitted virus cases. It is a major turning point in the global battle to contain COVID-19. This was the result of sweeping top-down draconian quarantine measures and strict travel restrictions.

It is a major breakthrough for a country where thousands of new cases were reported every day, and termed “the most high risk infection area in the world”. It has caused a steep decline of Chinese economy in the recent weeks and months. But China can afford it. They have the depth and reserves to absorb such challenges.

The epicenter has now shifted to Italy and Iran. Italy overtook China in the number of deaths. Studies reveal a correlation based on demographics. The seniors are most vulnerable. Both countries have strong interaction between young and elderly based on joint or extended family structures. Something we have to be extremely conscious about in Pakistan.

In Canada the pandemic has seen a rise. There are 770 cases as of now. Not alarming when compared to other epicenters. However the Governments at all levels, businesses, support groups have been proactive. The public’s rush to empty shelves was similar to that being experienced in Pakistan and other countries. It reflects panic and fear. Effective and emphatic steps have been taken to prevent social interactions. Restaurants, bars, sports and events of over forty people face restrictions. People are being urged to work from home.

Heightened public awareness is giving results. Roads are literally deserted. No more handshakes. After the initial surge, I believe the spread will plateau and hopefully start dropping. Government’s response has been three pronged. Create awareness; capacity building to test and treat; and putting together economic relief packages. Valued at around $82 billion, this package is being provided to sustain businesses and the economy.

Similar efforts are afoot in USA. After weeks of downplaying the pandemic, finally President Trump accepted the enormity of the challenge. He has been severely criticized for losing some valuable time. Government coffers have been opened through bipartisan support to combat this onslaught. The relief package is around a trillion dollars.

China, USA, Canada and other European countries have the financial capacity to deploy resources towards combating, controlling and rebuilding efforts. They will be able to absorb the spending surge. All out steps are being taken to prevent a global recession. Some observers even predict a depression. It took nearly a decade to get out of the last one in 2008.

Pakistan is a totally different situation. For a government that is barely succeeding in keeping its head above water to meet the present economic challenges, a severe disruption will unhinge the entire economy. We have to be realistic and take measured steps.

I see talk shows on media incessantly criticizing the government for not taking drastic measures. Those who ape the west urge massive lockdowns. Others seek a national emergency diverting huge resources to combat the pandemic. They are being unrealistic or smoking dope. Take your pick. We have this huge challenge to contain COVID-19. But widespread hunger resulting from curtailing bread earners ability to earn will be a bigger threat. A vast majority of Pakistanis survive day to day; they don’t know where the next meal is coming from!

Apart from 2-5% of the population that can survive serious lockdowns, the rest of Pakistanis will not survive roadblocks to their meager income generating capacity. The government has put restrictions to enable social distancing and other preventative measures. They should be ruthlessly implemented. However, given our moral degradation, opportunists and profiteers are feeding off human misery. They need to be taught a lesson they don’t forget easily.

We have serious capacity issues that cannot be corrected overnight. Ventilators and quarantine locations are in short supply. Basic safety items like test kits, masks and disinfectants have all but disappeared from the market. They are being sold at exorbitant profits by the hoarders. Compassion, care, fear of justice hereafter has been overtaken by greed and avarice.

I have a question for the people and the government? We look at China for a lot of things. How about adopting their work ethic and justice system?

Europe, North America and other developed nations will find ways to survive. They have the work ethic and an aware population. My biggest fear is COVID-19 spreading in populous countries like Pakistan, India, Indonesia and other developing countries.

In Pakistan we have to roll with the time, care for the deprived and needy, and fiercely implement preventive measures. No government can do it alone, it is everybody’s war. We have to come together as a nation. We have done it before in the face of national security threats and calamities. Let us fight like a nation united in a common cause. God’s blessing will count.

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