Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s address to the nation on Tuesday regarding COVID-19 was a great show of team coordination and making policy decisions that adapt to an evolving situation. His announcement to maintain restrictions on public gatherings and schools and extending the lockdown up to April 30 is welcome. The opening of specific sectors, particularly low-risk industries is also appreciable. With this, the government is attempting to strike a fine balance between two pressing issues. Staggered opening of the economy is necessary to save people, especially the daily wage earners, from hunger and starvation. However, the government also realises the risks that will surface while easing the lockdown. Now the onus of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the general public to practice all the prescribed precautionary measures that the standard operating procedures will demand.
It was encouraging to see Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza’s honest review of the situation. But the public needs to take his remarks seriously. People must observe and practice all the precautions that help in keeping the virus away. The reason that Pakistan is still in a better position compared to some countries is because of the government’s timely announced social restrictions. The government has done its part so far. No one expected that a developing country with Pakistan’s population numbers would brave this crisis in the way that we have so far. But if people ignore the directions, all efforts that have proven successful in containing the spread of coronavirus will be in vain.
One thing the state can improve on is enhancing the testing rate. Our current testing rate is roughly around 1100 per day, which as international experts have explained, is not sufficient. Out of a total population of an estimated 220 million, only 55,000 have been tested since February. As the Prime Minister and his team mentioned, Pakistan is way below the expected figures after nearly over months of facing the virus. But there is no denial of the fact that our initial testing policy has cost us a bit. The authorities can now utilise this lockdown to rapidly increase testing so more of the infected can be quarantined or isolated.