The ongoing crisis created by COVID-19, on one hand, has been challenging social norms across the globe and on the other hand, is putting to test the leadership mantle of world leaders. From the way people interact with their personal habits and how they do business everything is changing. Society as a whole is undergoing a transformation. Societal changes in the wake of the epidemic are inevitable, bound to be huge and all pervasive. Unless these changes are moderated and organized well by a central force, the cost of transformation is set to be unbearable anywhere in the world. Hence this pandemic is putting to a tough test leadership of all countries. It has brought under spotlight basic leadership qualities of world leaders prescience and vision, strategic planning, public credibility, enforcement of decisions and resilience in face of criticism. Grappling with the fallout of this outbreak is a study into the effectiveness of leadership.

In Pakistan, Sindh’s leadership stands out in mounting an effective response to the outbreak and other governments have been compelled to follow in face of determined and resolute stance and actions taken by the Sindh government. The first report of coronavirus infection was given by China to the WHO on Dec 31. It took two months for the first case of COVID-19 to surface in Pakistan on February 26. Before detection in Pakistan, the pandemic had already wrought havoc in some countries. In neighboring countries, China and Iran, deaths were counting in thousands.

But in Pakistan, public discourse was diffused and the government response was tepid. When everyone else seemed to be confused, Sindh’s leadership demonstrated unparalleled prescience and set out to tackle what was to become the severest public health crisis ever. On the very day, the first patient of coronavirus was reported that the provincial government ordered the closure of schools and educational institutions for three days to evaluate the situation. Except for screening at airports, it was business as usual in the rest of the country at that time. The Sindh government then extended school holidays for two more weeks and later, brought forward summer vacations and closed schools for three months. For doing so, the government received flaks as the decision was dubbed as anti-education and uncalled for. After schools, the Sindh government also ordered the closure of restaurants and other places where crowds could emerge. And later on, when others were debating on the definition of lockdown, the Sindh government considered it necessary to enforce it and banned all non-essential activities. Getting bureaucracy and government machinery to move at such a pace and so effectively that the Sindh government has done in enforcing lockdown is unprecedented.

Looking at world experience, it becomes clear that the only weapon states have against this virus is containment. No cure for this disease has been discovered and medical facilities in any country, whatever advanced and affluent it may be, are not sufficient to provide medical care to infected people after infection explodes. Therefore, for a developing country, such as Pakistan, the choice is simple, to do whatever can be done to contain the spread. Consequences are dreadful and gory if it gets out of control. Actions taken by the Sindh government practically demonstrate that its leadership is acutely aware of the sensitivity of the situation and is resolute in doing all that is necessary to safeguard citizens at large.

Lockdown has a fallout in the shape of its impact on the livelihoods of daily wagers and downtrodden class. The Sindh government has drawn up an effective plan to reach out to the poor and needy and a substantial amount is being spent to help this class. To tackle healthcare related aspects. Quarantine centers with quality services have been set up across the province - in a far better way than any other setups in other provinces. To relieve citizens lodged in the quarantines of concern for the maintenance of their families, the government is even providing food supplies to their families. To counter any unexpected large surge in infections, the government in collaboration with Pakistan Army has established a large isolation center at Karachi’s Civic Centre. Besides this, the government has provided an adequate number of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to healthcare workers. Furthermore, plans are afoot to arrange more ventilators and ICU beds. At the moment Sindh is leading other provinces in the number of diagnostic tests conducted and being carried out daily. Sindh Government opens the first drive-through virus testing facility in Karachi, as part of the attempts to stem the spread of the pandemic in the country, where infections are rising.

Federal government announced lockdown till April 14 eventually, it should have been early for getting better results. Welcoming it, Sindh government spokesperson Barrister Murtaza Wahab in his tweet said that “good to know that national consensus is developing with regards to lockdown. This is the only way to stop the spread of coronavirus and the desired objective of the lockdown will now be achieved.” He seems positive that federal and provincial governments will also work together on relief work, which is a need of the time.

While the war against coronavirus is very much in the early stages but directions and leadership shown by the Sindh Government is the only way it can be won. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has come out from this crisis as a visionary leader who has shown how despite serious resource constraints a leader can galvanize various stakeholders and the entire system to counter the most dangerous challenge we as a society face.