As mankind is scrambling in the face of the onslaught of novel coronavirus, our nation is weighing its strengths and limitations in tackling this universal health emergency of unprecedented scale.

In the national discussion ignited by this gigantic challenge, our usual proclivity to lambast ourselves has muted strengths that present silver linings. Initially it was the government’s refusal to bring back Pakistani students from China and belated response to the threat that triggered criticism. Later, selective screening, lack of capacity, and coordination failure between federal and provincial governments became the subjects of hot debate in mainstream and social media. Add to all this the fake news on social media that runs the risk of pushing the nation into mental trauma.

Unfair comparisons of the situation in Pakistan have been drawn with frightening situations in Italy and Iran without understanding the different set of factors in ours and other countries. Just take one minor example of greeting habits (which are not the tradition in our society) in foreign countries into consideration, which contributed to an exponential spread of the virus.

The biggest strength of our battle-hardened people is the strong resilience to confront national, regional and global crises including the earthquake of 2005, the floods of 2010, a long war against terrorism, and dengue fever outbreaks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged Pakistan’s demonstration of how the government and societal approaches could be made to work. Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, WHO’s country head, appreciated Pakistan’s timely measures against coronavirus, terming these the “best national response.” Our health and administrative authorities are not resting on accolades as a cross-country national effort is in progress to wipe out COVID-19.

The corona challenge has not thus caught us off-guard. During successive calamities in our national journey, the nation has always risen to the challenge. Our philanthropic and giving spirit has been the key factor. In the aftermath of lockdowns, the people are ready to follow the government’s care protocols and financially support those living below the poverty line.

COVID-19 didn’t find us in a complacent mood as our government had been in frequent contact with Chinese authorities on the issue since November 2019 owing to the presence of a large number of Pakistani students in Wuhan and elsewhere in China. Due to exchanges in the context of CPEC, initial preparations kicked off by end of last year. Due to this close engagement between the two governments, our authorities were learning lessons on mitigating techniques and public health security, though in that phase we were not expecting COVID’s sharp worldwide dispersal or the Iran factor. The care protocols including entry-point screening procedures, lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing were already in the knowledge of our authorities who immediately started to follow these as soon as the initial cases surfaced in our territories.

Pakistan and China being all-weather strategic friends, we are in a the best position to benefit from China’s spectacular success in eradicating the deadly virus. President Arif Alvi, accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Planning & Development Minister Asad Umar, was the first Head of State to visit China to show solidarity after China emerged victorious from the crisis. China is fast building our capacities by providing material, financial, professional and technical help. The first batch of 200 Chinese physicians is already in Pakistan to share their expertise regarding diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of COVID-19. China has provided thirty thousand testing kits, huge supplies of masks and protective clothing, epidemic prevention facilities, in addition to funds to build an isolation centre in Pakistan.

Pakistan took the prudent decision to resist airlifting its students back home. This move, while giving four Pakistani students an opportunity to recover, kept the virus at bay until the end of February when it made its way into our country through Zaireen returning from Iran. This gave Pakistan a period of around three months to learn from and put in place the best practices used in China and elsewhere in the world. Our medical experts are working on available options of anti-pandemic medicines and the procedure of passive immunisation that was practiced in China.

In disease susceptibility, three factors including immunity in various races, demographic structures and climate are the key determinants. While we are told that there is no proven linkage between warm climate and low incidence of coronavirus, there is still a common observation that the disease is taking a much greater toll in countries with low temperatures than countries with warmer climates. According to nCoV2019.live, out of 14750 deaths which took place around the world due to COVID-19 as of March 23, 8734 deaths were reported in European and Scandinavian regions, while only 79 deaths were reported in the Middle East and South Asian regions minus Iran, as it is relatively not warm in March with the temperature ranging from 7 to 15 degrees Celsius. As COVID-19 entered Pakistan at a time when spring had set in, there is no strong likelihood of a sharp spike in positive cases and deaths. Hope springs from the fact that at the end of March (a month from the time when the first case appeared in Pakistan) there are over 800 confirmed cases with six casualties.

Our demographic structure is another factor that provides hope. Majority of the corona victims in terms of fatalities are persons above 70 or 80 years of age. In Italy, very few deaths have been reported below the age of 60 years while a large percentage of casualties could be seen in the age bracket of 80 years and above, particularly in people who had history of other disease(s). In Pakistan, less than 5 percent of the population falls within the vulnerable age segment of 64 years and above. This raises the possibility of not many people succumbing to the virus. Much will, however, depend on how persons from diverse age segments are quarantined and treated.

Physical immunity in our people is higher than in most of the developed countries owing to the hard environment we live in. Due to a combination of high immunity and warm climate, the casualty figures in African countries are still in one digit with over 700 positive cases. Though said sarcastically, it is true to a large extent that our people have developed strong immune system through consuming adulterated foods, polluted water as well as inhaling polluted air. Flu, for instance, has never been an issue in our country while it’s dreaded in European countries, especially in the elderly population. Excessively clean and germ-free environments have brought down immunity levels in most European and other developed countries.

We are also at each other’s throats due to viewing the pandemic in a casual manner. This perhaps is not the case, as people from the whole spectrum of society are conscious of the virus and are educating themselves and one another on its dangers and socio-hygienic measures. The memes and humorous video clips on social media and WhatsApp are aimed at keeping anxiety levels low. There is a dire psychological need to lower stress and depression caused by the pandemic. In this regard, meditation is a great force for our people that always comes to our rescue in testing times. Quarantining ourselves has provided to welcome respite to introspect and employ it as spiritual strength.