Smart lockdowns are a viable option of active intervention of the government to launch targeted tracking, tracing, testing and quarantine mechanism in coordination with national security apparatus to halt the spread of COVID-19. The purpose of a smart lockdown is to provide relief and ease restriction to the labour class and the lower strata to survive economically along with fending off the virus. The government has come up with a balancing strategy of smart lockdown to help the weaker segments to earn their routine livelihood while isolating the coronavirus cases and their contacts to contain the disease. It also allowed the economy to function smoothly with guidelines of preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing of masks. According to a report by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, COVID-19 has a latent period of three days, in which it is non-infectious. The suggested 14-day lockdown cycle helps people to be away from the workplace, and hence stop spreading infection, as their lockdown days begin when they reach the infectious state. Even if someone gets infected on Day-1 of the cycle, their peak infection period would be during the lockdown days, reducing the number of secondary infections they can cause.

Given the analysis above, it is a safe estimate that smart lockdowns are here to stay. As China recently reported a second wave of virus infections in Beijing, smaller regions susceptible to virus outbreaks will be isolated to ensure that the spread of the virus is contained. Pakistan must stay ahead of the curve to ensure that its policy of smart lockdowns is not only viable but also unopposed by the people. In such conditions, an odd player has emerged as the holder of the banner of change.

Saeed Book Bank, the famed bookstore in the heart of the capital of the country, has raised the voice for improving mental health in these times. A growing body of research indicates that reading changes your mind. Using MRI scans, researchers have confirmed that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability matures, those networks also get more robust and more sophisticated. The Book Bank has reached out to its customers across the country to write and request the higher authorities to treat book stores around the country as medical centres. In these times, books are the solution to these problems. Because parents – usually absent during the day due to working hours – are at home too, they can administer disseminating school curricula and knowledge through books. As students are missing out on essential schooling, they are at risk.

Younger children, as well as students with special needs, find it difficult to concentrate on their full capacity with online educational tools. Young children need the assistance of in-person instruction and may find it challenging to focus on a typical frontal class conducted on a computer. Students with special needs, who also rely on in-person instruction, may find it especially challenging to switch to online platforms.

A rethink henceforth is required for smart lockdowns in Pakistan. The government has opted to open markets and financial institutions for limited periods to restrict the movement of people. I want to put forward an alternative. Rather than fixing times, these services should be administered around the clock. As closing times near, people hobble inside the offices and stores and spoil all social distancing precautions. By ensuring around the clock services, people will be able to avoid the commotion at the service centres.

Smart lockdowns must also be catalysts for enhanced testing and tracing. Pakistan has mostly been unable to increase the testing capacity beyond the 30,000 level. Although the level it has achieved, for an underdeveloped country is a feat on its own, many improvements are still required. Extensive testing in quarantined zones should become a norm, and people should be sensitised accordingly. If people are well informed about the issues, coronavirus can be combatted. There is no doubt about how the unprecedented global pandemic has ravaged the economy of developed countries. But it has made the underdeveloped and developing parts of the world faced with numerous challenges – more so than previously imagined. Now is the time to actively plan for the future of the post-corona world. Smart lockdowns henceforth must be made smarter to ensure a better future for the country.

–Hamza Aamir is an Economics and Mathematics graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at aamir19131@gmail.com