In his address to the special session on the COVID Action platform of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Prime Minister Imran Khan shared the experience of the developing world in dealing with the pandemic. It is true that the pandemic is a global crisis, which has impacted every single country one way or the other, but limited availability of resources has further exacerbated the situation for countries like Pakistan. While European and North American countries have peaked early and have the ability to sustain a longer lockdown, countries from other regions, especially South Asia and Africa are faced with the dilemma of finding a balance between protecting lives and livelihoods.

As the PM mentioned, millions of Pakistanis are daily wagers or affiliated with the informal economy, barely making ends meet even during regular times. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have resulted in mass unemployment overnight, threatening millions of families who live near the poverty line. The global economy, which was supposed to grow by 3 percent, is now expected to contract by 5 percent for the 2020-2021 period. From the speech, it is easy to discern that the government’s strategy is focused on finding a balance between preventing widespread virus transmission and reopening the economy to prevent unemployment and starvation. Cash handouts are only a short-term solution, one that is unsustainable. Hence, the difficult but necessary decision to ease the lockdown despite rising cases is the only realistic option.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the address was the mention of G20 countries working on a debt relief plan, that still needs to be fully developed. The PM shared how Pakistan and other developing countries are overwhelmed by the health and economic burden brought on by COVID-19. In such a scenario, it is essential that an effective debt relief programme is created as soon as possible to provide the necessary fiscal space for developed countries to undertake emergency and stimulus spending. It is hoped that regular engagements between countries on platforms such as the WEF will yield favourable results for all.