From being “A plague” to “The plague,” Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the planet. The trouble started in Wuhan, a populous city of Chinese province Hubei, in November 2019. At first, it was considered as flu causing deaths in severe cases, but the death toll started to rise, and the virus became epidemic. Negligence from people and local authorities made the matter worse and all of a sudden. Wuhan was facing a health crisis, and this rang the “danger bells” for the Chinese government. By the time, they considered this as an emergency and tried to contain it, things had gone out of hand, and the epidemic turned to a pandemic within three months.

Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is a viral disease that creates human respiratory disorders. Symptoms start to get prominent after 10-14 days of contact with the germs. It spreads with close contact by small droplets produced by infected people through coughing, sneezing, talking or even breathing. The virus slowly deteriorates the respiratory organs and eventually causes death in severe cases. The virus is stubborn and can last up to 72 hours on surfaces. COVID-19is the worst global disaster since the lethal “Asian flu” of 1957, and coincidently, China was responsible for that outbreak as well.

Currently, the global death toll has risen to 100,000 and counting. United States (18,693), France (10,869), Spain (14,792), United Kingdom (7,097) and Italy (17,669) are presently on the top of the list.

To make matters worse, there is still no cure for this outbreak except the precautionary measures. Not only has this pandemic killed people but it has crumbled many “giant economies” as well. United States’ financial markets have already lost trillions of dollars since February 2020, and European economies shared the same fate. It is safe to say that COVID-19 has brought many “giants” to their knees, and the world seems to be helpless right now.

COVID-19 and South Asia

This outbreak has not spared any continent. There have been severe effects on South Asia specially Pakistan and India which have suffered major hits. The total death count in Pakistan has reached 65 while the figure for India is 166 and counting. Just like many other western countries which have opted for a complete “lockdown” option, Pakistan also imposed a “partial lockdown.” One highly appreciable fact is that the Government of Pakistan intercepted this threat early and took significant necessary precautionary measures as compared to other countries. The spread-rate and the death count is lower in Pakistan, which is satisfactory for the time being, but the “chilly wind” has not arrived yet.

However, all this success was based on timely precautionary steps, but, the question arises, what does Pakistan have if the disease keeps on marching like this? Does the government have enough medical resources? Can Pakistan counter the outbreak if it goes critical? The most straightforward answer to this question is “NO.” Pakistan is not well equipped with medical facilities as compared to China, the United States and other European countries. Moreover, the Chinese government has intimated to Pakistan that the disease could get worse by the end of April.

This is not the only concern for the government right now. Although an early partial lockdown resulted in a “satisfactory” success, the question is, how long can the government and the people of Pakistan sustain it? Lower class and middle-class families constitute a significant portion of the total population, and most of them are surviving on daily wages. The lockdown has already affected the economy as well as the masses. People are afraid of dying from corona as well as hunger. At the same time, people are fearful of going for the initial medical screening for corona because people do not trust the medical facilities and the fear of the disease itself is greater than the fear of death.

Right now, the government is fighting at two fronts: the disease and the “sinking” economy. Timely and practical steps are required before it is too late, and partial lockdown may turn into a complete lockdown. Although the government has done well, some things will still need to be done to avoid a greater disaster.

Recommended Strategic Actions

I. Equip the medical personnel with essential protective gears as they are the ones fighting this battle at the front line.

II. Educate the public as much as possible. Education and awareness are extremely vital. It is good to see that the government is doing pretty well in this area.

III. Initiate mass screening and categorize people according to the severity of the issue. Categorize them as mild, moderate, or critical, and then deal with them accordingly.

IV. Tag and categorize the districts according to the severity of the disease so as to help the government to reallocate the available resources accordingly.

V. Control the unnecessary movement or social gatherings of individuals. Although it is challenging, it should be made mandatory right now.

VI. Mass sterilization of populated areas such as cities and towns will surely help as well.

VII. Unnecessary intercity transportation should be halted or at least minimized.

VIII. Initial screening should be conducted at cities’ entrances so that affected individuals can be stopped from entering “green zones.”

IX. Standard operating procedures should be given to the factories, production units, and other businesses. Rigid sanitization procedures must be ensured at these places.

X. Gradually opening business places in smaller tehsils and districts with proper precautionary measures will allow economic activities to resume.

XI. There should be regular disinfectant sprays and regular sterilization must be done inside mosques, shops and businesses that are operational.

XII. Frequent sterilization inside shops should be enforced. Sterilize the prayer areas in mosques after every prayer. Making it mandatory to wear masks and gloves while entering places such as the mosques can reduce the spread of the virus.

XIII. Installation of sterilization walkways can also be effective.

XIV. Increasing local production of Personal Protective Equipment can help to overcome the deficit of PPEs for healthcare personnel and also increase employment on an urgent basis in this sector.

Although Pakistan has somehow defeated the first attack, the second wave is yet to come, and our defences need to be fortified because avoiding the problem is the only feasible option for Pakistan right now. Yes, the survival of humanity is in great danger, but, Pakistan needs to be thoughtful and rational regarding its economy because this battle cannot be won without financial resources.

– The author is Director Healthcare Strategy at Beijing Puhua International Hospital, China. He can be contacted at afaizx@outlook.com