With no vaccine available and the spread of the novel coronavirus increasing, on-and-off lockdowns in the city may become an indefinite part of our lives
I was recently ordering food from a restaurant near where I live. I tell the man on the phone what I’d like to order and then my address. A frequent transaction, at this point. But he says something unexpected this time: “We can’t deliver there.”
There’s a pause, as I wait for him to explain why not.
“Why?” I finally ask.
“All the routes into that area are closed” he responds.
“So you’re not making any deliveries at all?”
“We are, just to areas that are open,” he says, plainly.
“But the address I gave you is practically next to your restaurant…” I continue.
“...and our riders still can’t get there,” he cuts me off mid-sentence. “Have you gone out recently?”
“I have,” I reply, defensively. I haven’t left my house in two weeks, but why should that have anything to do with it?
“Did you see how all the routes in and around where you live were closed to traffic?”
“Not really” I say, continuing to lie. I just want a paratha roll and some fries, not a public hearing.
“Well, maybe, you can get in and out because you’re a resident. We cannot,” he shoots back, and then promptly hangs up.
While I managed to find a different eatery that delivered food to my house — this is Lahore, after all — I did find the above exchange bewildering.
The following day, I decided to leave the house and saw what the man was talking about. Many of the frequently used routes into and out of my neighbourhood were indeed blocked off to regular traffic. Movement wasn’t impossible, but it was inconvenient. I could see why this would be too much trouble for someone delivering food.
While I was out, I ended up going for a drive to make the most of my excursion, before I invariably go back to staring at walls for another two weeks. I knew there was a lockdown in place, but I wanted to see how far away I could get from where I live.
The traffic on the roads didn’t make it seem like there was anything out of the ordinary. One could even forget that we’re currently living through a global pandemic. That is, until I decided to take a long detour back home through Gulberg.
The routes that I tried to get into Gulberg were blocked off. I didn’t try every route, and before I actually did, I called a friend of mine who lives in Gulberg. “Yeah, you can’t get in” he said.
“Oh. Not at all?” I asked, actually taken aback a little.
“Not at all” my friend replied.
“How do you get out?”
“I don’t,” my friend said, chuckling a little.
Talk of how long the pandemic will last and what to expect from our immediate future dominates the current news cycle. It’s clear that a continuous, uninterrupted state of absolute lockdown is neither feasible, nor desired. The burden on public finances would be too great, as it already has been, and the public, understandably, wouldn’t accept such a thing.
I hung up and decided to go back home. On my way, I noticed more barriers to other major areas — Model Town being one. On some level, I was glad to see there were stricter lockdown measures being implemented. Inevitably, however, I also felt a tinge of frustration and claustrophobia as I thought about how long this curbed mobility will last.
I’m not alone in wondering this, of course. Talk of how long this pandemic will last and what to expect from our immediate future dominates the current news cycle. It’s clear that a continuous, uninterrupted state of absolute lockdown is neither feasible, nor desired. The burden on public finances would be too great, as it already has been, and the public, understandably, wouldn’t accept such a thing. The toll on people’s livelihoods, children’s education and their mental health, as well as the consequences of shuttering in place measures on the physical safety of, for example, domestic abuse victims has been immense; and, unfortunately, this seems not to let up any time soon.
The question, then, of how long this may have to last, has no definitive answer and certainly not one that is easy to accept.
As the pandemic rages on globally, especially in Pakistan where easing of lockdowns after Eid ul Fitr increased the spread of Covid-19 immensely, governments and people are trying to fundamentally reimagine their everyday lives and adapt accordingly. This is especially because while there are a number of vaccines in development around the world, experts estimate that a rollout for a viable drug is still about a year and a half away, at best. And this doesn’t even take into account issues of mass market commerce: ensuring a stable global supply chain with robust logistics and an equitable distribution of the drug.
With a vaccine a long way off and an indefinite state of lockdown not being a possibility, it’s starting to seem like the new normal is what we’re already living through — intermittent lockdowns, a constantly changing level of restrictions on mobility and business activity and a constant state of uncertainty.
Of course, it would be easy to dismiss any of the above as undue fear-mongering, and I would absolutely forgive anyone for thinking so; but considering the situation in Pakistan, where the government has been trying to take the herd-immunity approach to tackling the pandemic while blaming its own people for the spread of the virus, and where an anti-vaccine mentality is still alive and well, one struggles to imagine a different scenario.
My intention, therefore, is not to stoke fear. There’s enough of that going around already. But I do wonder, if out loud, exactly when all of this will be over. Until it is, I just hope people can eat their paratha rolls safely and unimpeded by road blocks.
The writer is based in Lahore and can be found on Instagram @ab.mueed