“I want to tell you that the virus will spread,” while our Prime Minister stated the obvious in his speech on the Coronavirus and the media was fanning the corona panic, I fixed my face mask and used my hand sanitizer once again. On a lighter note, I thought of going all bling and decking up my mask with pearls like some of the Nigerian celebrities did, but then decided against the fashion statement to avoid judgment and attracting unnecessary attention. When you are working full time, you tend to notice various human behaviours and in the past two weeks, I have observed that the absolute hardest thing to achieve is to get someone to change their behaviours, and that too voluntarily. While social distancing and cleanliness precautions are important, the sad truth is that in a population as wayward, uninformed and negligent as ours, expecting people to change their lifestyles and attitudes towards general cleanliness is unrealistic. We may see our friends from a certain socio-economic class following strict medical advisories, but Pakistan is a country with the majority unable to understand as to how to behave in a coordinated way. We are a nation that cannot even form a straight queue because that is our cultural attitude-we do not respond well to following rules and that is where the problem begins on following the corona prevention protocols.

According to Imran Khan, we cannot even embark on a lockdown indefinitely, given most of our economy runs on daily wages. So in other words, the spread is inevitable given our densely concentrated population with almost no concept of personal space and cleanliness. The Prime Minister has a valid point, but then what alternate measures would he recommend? WhatsApp and social media have already awarded us a PHD on social distancing and cleanliness, so we do not need to hear that part again. As a citizen of this country, I was hoping the Prime Minister would inspire confidence by promising that when the wheels fall off, he would convert government schools into hospitals with extra beddings, nursing care and other medical facilities. I was waiting for him to say that he would ensure the supply chain is not disrupted and the pharmacies have enough medicines. When the speech ended, I actually thought that maybe I have missed out the part where he was discussing ways to further strengthen Pakistan’s preparedness, including enhancing of testing facilities and emphasising on actively engaging with individuals and organisations in efforts to curb the outbreak, only to realise that it never happened. There was no mention of how our country is unprepared to face anything like this because of the lack of medical infrastructure. This also means massive underreporting of cases and deaths that may not even show up in the official numbers.

In my opinion, the only thing we can do is to make our own and our children’s immune system stronger and ensure that our bodies handle it better when it hits because we cannot stop the infection as the contagion is more potent than we can imagine. Smokers should cut out smoking because we would need those lungs! Eat healthy, stay home and try to stop stressing because stress and anxiety weakens the immune system. On a more profound note, it is surprising that all it takes to bring down the most powerful of countries in the world is a microscopic bug. Corona has crashed the stock markets, businesses have shutdown and life has come to a halt. It also proves how thin the veneer of civility is when people start taking out guns and knives over hand sanitizers and toilet paper. Just remember that when the corona crisis is over, we need to make our plans keeping in mind that something like this or even worse, can hit us again and we should be prepared. It is ironic how our lives and behaviours’ are governed by our circumstances with very little in our control and we only progress and thrive as long as everything is in place and we feel safe in our respective bubbles with our false sense of security as our shields.

It also draws attention to what an emotion like “fear” can do to human beings. I have been noticing my office boy using hand sanitizer every five minutes, (he is someone who probably does not even know the purpose it serves, but for once he is doing what he has been asked to do, due to an overwhelming fear factor). Also, those of us who are in favour of a lockdown do not realise the impact it will have on mental health, especially on those who are already clinically depressed or are living alone. Being cut off from the world is also a successful death plan and if you think of it, it is quite scary. Therefore, building the muscle to fight as an individual is really the only choice we are left with given how unprepared we are every time these trans-national events approach us. We are a forgetful nation and that is why I worry that when something like this will hit us in another five years with another name, we will be lost in oblivion and we will only have lip service and window dressing to show. We will not have anything to save us except what the experts tell us and of course, the mighty power of prayer. Corona or not, death is a total different story for me and is happening around the world to people for far more reasons than just corona, so that should not become the reason of fear. However, I do know that we need a strategy which the PM’s address to the nation lacked and the speech came across as a mere humbug.

Lastly, stop panic shopping, stand together as a society in these unusual times and do not be greedy as if the world is ending tomorrow. Have realisation for the poverty stricken segments of our society when you hoard on wipes, tissues, dettols and everything else you think will save you.

The writer is a Barrister and an entrepreneur