Setting aside the blame-game and controversy regarding how, when and where the coronavirus originated, it is an irrefutable reality that the velocity with which this pathogen has swept across the globe, almost all governments were caught unprepared for the challenge, and its onslaught exposed the inadequacies of their health systems.

Even countries like America presently do not have the required paraphernalia and equipment to deal with the burgeoning afflictions by the coronavirus; what to speak of the developing countries like Pakistan. So those who are hurling criticism at the government for its lack of adequate response and the fragility of the health system to deal with the pandemic, either lack understanding of the ground realities and the enormity of this unexpected catastrophe or are being driven by their cynical streaks of finding fault with everything without coming forth with ideas, strategies and better alternatives under the given situation.

According to the latest figures, 820,000 people have been infected by the virus around the world. More than 40,000 have lost their lives while at least 174,000 have recovered. USA, Italy and Spain are the most affected countries at the moment, while the spread of the virus in the rest of the European countries has also assumed alarming proportions. Scientists and health experts believe that only in the US, the death toll could be in the vicinity of 2 million eventually. In the absence of any medicine or vaccine being readily available and the time-lag of one and half years suggested by scientists before it can be developed to cure the disease, it would have killed millions of people across the globe. It is feared that the impact of this pandemic on developing countries would be far greater than developed nations.

Developing countries, which have already been significantly weakened by the shockwaves from the crisis, precipitated by the deadly combination of economic and health crisis, will find it extremely difficult to handle the situation because the worst is yet to come. UN believes that the world will have to find ways of strengthening healthcare systems and services in developing countries and building resilience on that front expeditiously. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, while launching a report on the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 said, “The world faces the most challenging crisis since World War II, confronting a pandemic threatening people in every country, one that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past. There is also a risk that the combination of the disease and its economic impact will contribute to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict.” UNCTAD has suggested a rescue package for emerging economies to the tune of $2.5 trillion to help them avoid the worst-case scenario. It has also proposed a four-point recovery plan for developing countries including investment injection in weaker economies by rich countries, freezing and writing-off their debts, investing $500 billion in emergency health services and related social relief programmes and the implementation of state-led controls by developing economies to curtail the surging capital outflows.

The UN is right on the money in urging for a global response to the challenge, with affluent nations, while coping with their own situations also contributing to alleviation of the sufferings of poor nations. Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly observed that Pakistan was not in a position to handle the emerging crisis on its own and needed international help to deal with the situation, particularly writing off debts by its creditors to boost its financial situation. It is encouraging to note that the global community and the international lending agencies realise the gravity of the situation and are coming forth to help developing countries. The Paris Club, G-20 countries, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank are in the process of devising strategies to assist the most vulnerable nations. The IMF and the Asian Development Bank have already given money to Pakistan and the former is also engaged in deliberations with Pakistan for further assistance and relaxations on the loans already taken.

The foregoing measures are meant to mitigate the impact of the virus. However, in the absence of any treatment being readily available, there is greater emphasis on preventing the spread of the virus. The global community is unanimous on the point that the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is its containment through social distancing, which may take the form of partial and complete lockdowns. Pakistan has also opted for partial lockdown and very rightly so. The Prime Minister’s observations that our social and economic conditions did not permit for a complete lockdown or curfew as it would create enormous problems for poorer sections of the society and the government simply did not have the administrative and financial capacity to cope with such a scenario, is beyond reproach. However, the government is in the process of preparing itself for any eventuality. It has already announced a stimulus and relief package of Rs1200 billion to help the business community besides providing succour to daily wage-earners and labourers, keeping in view its financial capability. There is a possibility that, with more foreign assistance becoming available, this package might be revised in relevance to the emerging challenge. The government is also feverishly engaged in augmenting the capacity of the health system and making testing kits and other equipment available besides ensuring the safety of the medical staff engaged in treating people afflicted with coronavirus.

As things stand now, the people of Pakistan need to back the efforts of the government in their own and the country’s larger interest by strictly observing the preventive measures. My view is that in such catastrophes, apart from the steps that are taken to ward off the misfortune in the form of initiatives in the medical and financial domains, the thing which helps the most is faith in God’s mercy and blessings as well as in the ability of the nation to wade through the storm. It is said that faith and fear are the two most stupendous forces in this world and faith is greater than fear. The spread of the pandemic of coronavirus has surely created fear in the hearts of the people and they can overcome it with the force of their faith. Prime Minister Imran Khan was not off the mark when he said that corona will be confronted with the force of faith.