According to the figures released by the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), 38 people died from coronavirus on Tuesday, while the number of new infections was 1013. The trend is very encouraging on both counts as it is constantly on the downward curve, compared to the period after Eid-ul-Fitr when the infection rate crossed six thousand per day and deaths continuously remained above one hundred. It bears testament to the claims of the government that its smart lockdown strategy has started yielding encouraging results in regards to balancing life and livelihoods, keeping the economy afloat, addressing the issues of the poor and the working classes and containing the spread of coronavirus. The outcome is also corroborated by the IMF Economic Outlook, which claimed that Pakistan was amongst a group of 30 countries, which had reversed the projected downturn from -0.4 to 1.1 from July 19 to May 20, while its exports fared much better as compared to exports from other countries of the region.

The decision of the PTI government to adopt the new normal through targeted lockdowns and simultaneously keeping the wheel of the economy going has surely started paying dividends. Authentic data is available to suggest that in Islamabad and other parts of the country where smart lockdown was enforced, a sharp decrease in coronavirus cases has been noticed. As per the figures given by the Islamabad administration, the number of coronavirus cases in Islamabad on June 1, was 771. However, after the smart lockdown in the areas with greater number of infections the count has dropped below hundred. Similar reports are also coming from the areas which have been subjected to smart lockdown. The results of opening up different sectors of the economy are also quite visible and the people seem to be coping with the situation quite well.

The credit for reversing the trajectory of virus infections and decline in death rates goes to the efforts by NCOC which led from the front in regards to daily monitoring of the situation, capacity enhancement of the health system, establishing a credible database, better resource management and formulation of appropriate SOPs. It would be pertinent to point out that NDMA has also made creditable efforts in the procurement of ventilators, protective apparels and other equipment required for treating COVID-19 patients and protecting medical staff from contracting the virus while performing their duties.

As the need and necessity for ventilators and other equipment arose in the backdrop of the spread of coronavirus, the government also focused on efforts to locally produce ventilators, sanitisers and PPEs. According to the Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, the country has succeeded in producing ventilators locally, and eight to ten ventilators have already been handed over to NDMA recently. He also revealed that Pakistan was already exporting sanitisers and PPEs to the US worth $100 million and we would have a big medical and electromagnetic industry within the next three years. That indeed is good news. As they say, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic has also led to the emergence of a new industry in the country to meet its future needs as well as to be able to export the equipment produced, fetching the much-needed foreign exchange.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, right from the beginning, has been opposing the concept of a complete lockdown, justifiably maintaining that with 25 percent living below the poverty line and the economy in the doldrums, it was not a feasible option. Nevertheless, the government did not lag behind in evolving different strategies aimed at containment of the virus and providing relief to the affected segments of the society under the Ehsaas cash transfer programme within available resources.

His logic was that our social and economic realities were different from other countries and we could not emulate their examples.

A survey conducted recently by Institute for Public Opinion Research reveals that 63 percent of the public endorses and supports Imran Khan’s approach and handling of the prevalent coronavirus situation. In the end, it is public opinion about the efforts and policies of the government that matters the most. To be honest, the criticism of the government by its detractors and political opponents in regards to its handling of the pandemic is nothing but opposition for the sake of opposition. The government has made and continues to make sincere and dedicated efforts within its means to grapple with the shockwaves produced by the pandemic as well as keeping the economy vibrant.

The Prime Minister stands vindicated as most of the world, even the affluent countries are also pursuing this model to come to grips with the pandemic, realising that they could not afford complete shutdowns of their economies and a way had to be found to live with the virus. Some states in the US and the worst-hit European countries are also opening up their economies with a view to restore normalcy. The UK has even allowed opening of pubs and restaurants to revive social life. It is pertinent to point out that in some European countries, people also took out rallies to protest against the lockdowns urging the governments to remove restrictions on their movement and also save their jobs through revival of economic activities.

It is now accepted worldwide that till such time an effective vaccine becomes available, we have to live with the new normal and people have a greater responsibility in making this effort successful by observing the SOPs, social distancing and preferably staying at home to stay safe. It is more imperative for developing countries like Pakistan. People must sustain the efforts of the government by observing the SOPs in letter and spirit. That is the best defence against the pandemic currently available. The people by and large have exhibited responsible behaviour which has helped in restraining the spread of the virus in an exponential manner. However, they need to get into their heads that the smart lockdowns and strict observance of the SOPs was in their own and larger interest of the country. The government on its part also needs to make sure that the agencies responsible for enforcing the SOPs do not show any slackness in this regard. COVID-19 is rightly described as the biggest challenge of the century to the global community and the success of the government policies in regards to containing its spread depends upon full cooperation of the masses through observance of the SOPs and other preventive measures. The media and NGOs can also play a pivotal role in motivating the people in this regard.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist.