May 17, 2020

Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman

While the federal government’s announcement of easing lockdown restrictions was no surprise, it received a mixed response. Health professionals, who had argued for a strict(er) lockdown for another couple of weeks to control the spread of virus, were disappointed. But there were also those who had argued that livelihoods were at stake during lockdowns and easing it was no longer a luxury but a necessity. So the government eased lockdown restrictions imposing several SOPs while warning that the decision could be reversed if people failed to follow these.

On the very first day, images of shops and bazaars filled with people, with little to no regard for social distancing and safety measures, splashed across television screens and newspapers. While the images spoke for themselves, the casual disregard for public health and personal safety was nothing short of an absolute horror.

As markets open and businesses start operating, the real concern appears to be the sustainability of the easing of lockdown restrictions. In the long-drawn debate on the threat to lives through the spread of the virus versus the threat to lives due to lack of livelihoods there appears to be little discussion on the possibility of attempting to balance the two. While there can be no pet formula for this, experts have argued that the key lies in gauging the risks involved in either scenario, and adapting and revising policies accordingly.

For Pakistan, the challenge is not just imposing a lockdown or easing the restrictions. The challenge includes being mindful of a weak health infrastructure, a fragile economy and unbelievably casual social attitudes. In its attempt to strike just the right balance, the government must formulate a series of measures that will be implemented phase wise based on lessons learnt from experience. The recent easing of restrictions appears to have startled even some government officials. In a few weeks we will be able to gauge the complete impact of these measures but till then while public health and safety remain the government’s responsibility, it is also for the people to understand the significance of their actions and play their part.