The trend is simple enough. Exponential is the word for it.

At first, only a few cases are identified. The government tries to isolate these cases and requests the public to not panic. It makes the argument that majority of infections are mild and do not require hospitalization. It argues that the virus has a low fatality rate, that only old people with pre-existing conditions are at risk. We must keep calm. As if old people are dispensable. Anyway, let’s not digress.

And then, in about 2 to 4 weeks, the cases grow exponentially. The reason is simple enough, the virus has long incubation period. It can take up to 4 weeks for the symptoms to appear. And then, the sky falls. This is what happened in Norway. This is what happened in Italy. This is what has happened the world over. To provide context, let me quote a number. Italy had about 100 cases two weeks ago, now the entire country is under lockdown. And this is what Pakistan is headed towards.

Since we tend to follow the Chinese models, it is pertinent to see how China dealt with the virus.

To begin with, China’s effective health care system came into play. It also built multiple ad-hoc hospitals. But the game changer- the lightning strike- against Corona was executed by technology and big data. Quarantines were enforced using drones and CCTV cameras (China has over 300 million of them), many of them equipped with facial recognition abilities. This combined with travel histories and hospital records, allowed the Chinese Government to track the movements as well as the virus exposure risk of each person individually. In one such case reported by WSJ, the police posted travel details (with specifics) of a man who had tested positive for corona virus; the police then asked people who had been in his vicinity to get themselves tested for the virus. China also developed a smartphone application that has database of people who have tested positive for the virus or have symptoms- all you need to do is type in your specifics and the “application will tell you if you have ever come into close contact with someone who tested positive”, as per WSJ.

Needless to say, it is ignorant to expect a similar reaction by the Pakistani Government and public. The challenge faced by the rudderless executive makes one sorry for them. They do not have enough kits to test for the virus; their hospitals do not have enough capacity even on a good day and; the economy is continuously stalling. Worst of all, the citizenry they govern over is unwilling to acknowledge the threat, like always. As if looking the other way will cause the situation to improve.

The solution might cause more pain than that caused by austerity measures. Cancel mass gatherings, run TV advertisements, close down offices and educational institutes and perhaps, enforce a curfew. Curfew is important, not because it might reduce the number of cases Pakistan will eventually have to deal with, but because it will spread those cases over a longer period of time. This means that not all those who are going to fall sick will fall sick at the same time. This will reduce the pressure on the hospitals. It is called “flattening the curve”. And this is Pakistan’s only shot.

But perhaps the first step lies in what the Prime Minister promised this Nation repeatedly, and that is to tell the truth. This is cold start, and Pakistan does not have an armor formation yet.

“Thora Ghabra Lein.”

Farzan Saeed Khan

The writer is a LUMS alumnus currently pursuing MSc in Norway.