May 31, 2020

As feared, the repercussions of the government’s decision to allow easing of lockdown restrictions earlier in May, which were further eased right before Eid following pressure by the business community, have created a situation where Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has been forced to warn that a strict lockdown could be re-imposed if the surge in infections continued.

The exponential spread of the virus continued during the almost two weeks in which the lockdown restrictions had been eased. The concern now is to put in place precautions to prevent the health infrastructure from collapsing entirely. As the debate over availability of protective gear for healthcare professionals and facilities like beds and ventilators continues, there is little doubt that these facilities will soon be overburdened.

Doctors had all along been urging the government to reconsider relaxing of lockdown citing concern over the (in)ability of the healthcare system to contain the burden resulting from a potential surge in cases amid greater public movement and less stringent lockdown measures. The number of documented cases in Pakistan has crossed well over 60,000 and there is no knowing how far this will go.

Over the past few weeks, it has become apparent that unless a degree of uniformity is established at the policy level, chaos and confusion will continue to lead social behavior and mould public perception regarding the virus. There are some things that cannot be compromised on – safety and well being of citizens must remain a top priority. While the country cannot sustain a long-term complete lockdown risking the health of an already weak economy, it can also not continue to risk lives through poor policy and weak public messaging.

As untold a story as ever could be, this pandemic brings with it new sets of challenges that continue to test collective abilities, capacities, will and patience. And while new lessons have to be learnt, learning the same lessons again and again cannot be an option because the price of doing that is just too great.