By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
There’s a battle raging in Pakistan over the Corona crisis, especially on the strategy.
Whether we should go for a soft mitigation strategy of self imposed social distancing or through a harsh state mandated suppression strategy of forced lockdown.
While there’s limited data on eventual outcomes, so far we know that harsh suppression is far more effective in slowing down the infection and mortality rate, as compared to the gentle mitigation, being advocated by PM Imran.
The choice is not a black and white, binary right or wrong, but one which gives us the best fighting chance to tackle this Black Swan event. Deaths will occur in both scenarios.
While we can understand the argument of the negative economic impact on the tens of millions of daily wage earners and micro businesses who literally survive on their daily earnings to make ends meet, the consequences of a soft, gentle mitigation strategy are horrific in terms of infection, loss of life and the overwhelming of the National health care system.
And the most at risk will be the daily wage earners and the poor, with no help coming their way from our already crumbling health care system, as they are afflicted in the millions.
This is clear from countries which went the mitigation strategy way like Italy, Spain, Iran and the USA, where it didn’t work. All are now moving or have moved to lockdowns.
On the other hand the harsher lockdown suppression approach will give us, as we saw in China, South Korea, Singapore a lessening of the rate of infection, less mortality without overwhelming health care systems where doctors, like in Italy, having to make terrible choices of letting people die because of lack of medical facilities and care.
For Pakistan, without qualification, we need the harsher lockdown strategy to stop the virus infecting tens of our millions and consequently, as we know, our already hopeless health care infrastructure, will crumble in no time.
We need to buy time!
This will give us breathing space to upgrade our health systems, chances that a vaccine may be available to limit its genocidical impact and also develop and implement strategies and plans to address the economic impact on our most vulnerable segments.
One of Pakistan’s leading medical health professional shared this with me when I asked for his views.
*”…….PM Imran and Pakistan needs a very high powered body and think tank of highly competent healthcare, economic and social experts with powers to immediately implement decisions. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Total lock down with volunteers and army making sure the daily wagers are fed without leaving homes…..”*
So our challenges are two fold.
Enforce a lockdown, for which our military, our law enforcement agencies and civic volunteers are mobilized. This is easy. Especially if a National Emergency is declared so decisions are not challenged and made redundant by spoilers in courts of law. Even fundamental rights may have to suspended.
Private sector must be engaged, by law, on a war footing to upgrade our healthcare infrastructure to provide and or produce much needed medical equipment, supplies, medicines, to take advantage of the breathing space achieved from the lock down.
Based on infection data, plans must ensure that less exposed cities, towns, districts etc are fenced off, creating safe havens in case of an out break in other areas.
Intercity movement can be strictly regulated and controlled only allowing for needed supplies and emergency vehicles.
The second and bigger challenge is to address the issues of those economically impacted by the lockdown. In this situation, the most effective institutions with the necessary geographical footprint and experience are those who’ve been working in poverty alleviation across the country.
Organization like Akhuwat with over 800 offices in over 440 cities, towns and villages. The Saylani Trust. The Government’s Ehsas Program, The Aga Khan Rural support program the National Rural Support Program, The Sarhad Rural Support Program and scores if not hundreds more.
People like Dr. Amjad Saquib of Akhuwat, Qazi Azmat Isa of PPAF, Masood ul Mulk of SRSP Shandana Khan, Shaheen Atiqqur Rehman of Bunyad, Dr. Naseeruddin Mahmood of Child Life Foundation and many more need to be consulted and made partners in this project to successfully implement.
This is not the work of politicians, bureaucrats and military officers alone, but of domain specialists and experts.
Pakistanis have always risen to the call to help its fellow citizens. We’ve seen the massive support when afflicted by Earthquakes and Floods.
Our philanthropy is legendary. Estimates of food requirements for about 60 million of the most impacted range from Rs 100 to Rs 300 billion for a 6 month period. Between the government and our people we will easily come up with this amount.
An easy way out. Reduce the State Bank discount rate by 4% and the saving on debt servicing provides a much bigger cushion.
This is war! We have to save our people. The economy we will rebuild if we come through less scarred.
Our richest must come forward and donate generously. The 70 odd members of the Pakistan Business Council, our largest business magnates who contribute 11% of our GDP, must step forth and take the lead!
It is now for PM Imran to decide and take actions quickly and not be drowned in a cacophony of confusion, helplessness, misguided advice and analysis paralysis.
He must lock down the Country and put in place plans to address those most impacted by the lockdown.
This could be his finest hour as he rallies the entire resources of the country, its young and old, rich and poor, behind him to save the Country from calamitous consequences.
- PM Imran needs a “War Cabinet of Competence” not the current pack of jokers, busy in palace intrigues, currently around him.