Across the globe, more than 180 countries have been grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, including Pakistan. With the outbreak, countries have begun reporting the economic losses, due to the business shutting down drastically, and continue laying off millions of workers, without any hope to resume their work anytime soon. The healthcare system has been overwhelmed to an alarming level, as people continue to fall sick, making hospitals run out of beds. Pakistan, a country of over 200 million, which is already struggling with macro-economic stabilisation tells the same story; it has fallen below the world average ranks of human development indicators.

The surge in COVID-19 cases have already surpassed the death toll of the outbreaks of Ebola, and other localised deadly epidemics. Dengue, measles, and Hepatitis have been a point of concern within Pakistan until a cure was developed. But a large-scale coronavirus outbreak has posed challenges and dire consequences for the country. As of now, 255k coronavirus positive cases have been reported, and many remain unreported. The government and surveys have suggested that in the beginning of August, there could be a new spike in confirmed cases, after Eid is over, because people usually disobey social distancing rules, and other SOP’s have been violated for days. This could soon be a cause of the surge in mortalities. Additionally, burdening the already overwhelmed healthcare system is unlikely to be avoided; it will not be easy for Pakistan to handle this time.

Through a full-fledged pandemic, Pakistan has realised its potential, and loopholes in its fractured healthcare system, including the non-availability of basic healthcare facilities, lack of isolation procedures, falling short of testing kits and the issues related to resource constraints faced by medical staff. Sadly, Pakistan has only allocated 2 percent of its GDP to this sector, in contrast to a global average of 10 percent. Moreover, unequal and late access to the healthcare system is a problem for everyone, rich or poor, but the poor are the most-affected compared to the rich. Their inability to access private healthcare facilities or avail the option to work from home makes them more vulnerable to the disease.

Amid the corona outbreak causing political and economic crises, the government has distributed a $6.76 billion stimulus package to provide monetary assistance to the vulnerable class and keep businesses running in these unprecedented times. Furthermore, the announcement of an emergency cash transfer programme has successfully provided every household Rs12,000, using data analytics to assess eligibility to receive monetary compensation. PM Imran Khan’s effort to implement smart lockdown measures has gained popularity amongst various segments of society who were opposing a countrywide lockdown, which could have worsened economic conditions.

Furthermore, the new policy to revamp the healthcare system by equipping research labs through direct investments to produce local ventilators has been undertaken. The government has allocated nearly $299 million to purchase the much-needed medical equipment. Funds have also been released to further enhance the testing capacity of state-run hospitals, as per the latest guidelines released in WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response plan, which is to ensure that the government remains informed of the cost of health facilities for any future outbreaks.

With enhanced testing and accessible medical facilities, the government has come up with innovative ideas to help spread the awareness of coronavirus through the telecommunication industry.

To avoid a hike in food prices, and ensure food safety for everyone, the government has nearly lifted taxes on daily consumable food items and reiterated its support to make government-owned utility stores supply subsidised, and quality food to consumers. To keep the wheels of supply and demand moving, the government has funnelled $1.68 billion to help sustain the agriculture sector. Amongst the farmers, wheat producers have benefitted the most to prevent cash-flow problems and continue producing wheat at the same pace. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is working day and night to track the virus’ spread and provide logistical support to the federal and provincial governments with the help of the Pakistan Army, which is at the forefront to safeguard our frontiers from the enemy.

No country can completely overcome the corona outbreak until we find a cure or vaccine for it. However well-planned strategies and proper execution of those guidelines can help a government address the underlying vulnerabilities, and face challenges to counter it smoothly. The challenges faced by Pakistan are dealt with strategically through government interventions in a timely fashion which could mitigate the further loss of life and the economic turmoil Pakistan faces.