Coping with the Virus

Spearhead Analysis-01.04.2020

The year 2020 brought the virus (COVID-!9) to the world. In Pakistan the reality hit us with the first reported case in late February 2020. Three events had a serious effect on Pakistan’s response. First the return of the pilgrims from Iran where the virus was rampant and the botched handling at the border entry point. Second a massive religious gathering around mid-March that included foreign nationals and the dispersement of this rally without any containment or testing procedures. Third the confusion over a lockdown and curfew that let a segment of the religious community and the population defy the advice to shun all congregations. Pakistan is still coping with the impact of these events and will continue to do so paying the price for lapses in leadership and control.

Pakistan’s response has evolved into the following main facets:

  • A meeting of the National Security Council to determine the scale and dimension of the threat and the response required.
  • Frequent meetings of the National Coordination Committee chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • The establishment of a National Command Centre under a serving lieutenant general of the Army.
  • The full activation of the National Disaster Management Authority also headed by a serving lieutenant general of the Army.
  • The approval of sizeable funds for support of the rural landless and daily wage earners to be channeled through the military, the Rangers and a ‘Tiger Force’ of registered and approved volunteers.
  • The military called out in support of the civil government and administration in the entire country.
  • Economic and financial measures to sustain the country through the crisis.
  • Urgent procurement of masks, gloves, ventilators and protective gear for health workers as well as establishment of quarantine and isolation centers and protocols including a robust public education campaign.
  • A lockdown to ensure social distancing, stop unnecessary movement of people and a ban on all facilities where people could be in close contact. The severity of the lockdown is being debated with one province holding out for what it calls a complete lockdown.
  • Ban on international and domestic flights and all inter-city transport except for movement of goods transportation.
  • The establishment of a Prime Ministers’ Relief fund for donations and steps to renegotiate debt related commitments as well as international support.

Though it took time to gel into specifics, the response has been comprehensive and robust. The various measures are being constantly reviewed and fine-tuned based on solicited feedback and close monitoring of the situation. There is criticism—too little too late, skepticism over implementation capacity, calls for mustering the ‘Dam Fund’ and the 190 million GBP remittance from the UK into the relief fund so that donors are encouraged to come forth and calls for a blanket permission for repatriation of funds from abroad through banking channels with no questions asked. Perhaps the question asked most frequently in media debates is the failure to reach out to the opposition to develop an environment and unity. It would also help if FBR and NAB kept a lower profile during the duration of the crisis—of course meaningful initiatives by opposition leaders under investigation would help enormously. The magnitude of the crisis needs to be understood so that sustainability of the response is ensured because this is not a fire fighting situation—it is going to be a long painful haul and while keeping the past in mind our focus should be on emerging from the crisis with our economy, financial institutions and industry if not intact, then at least in a position to be revived. The bottom line is that over the last seven decades we failed to empower the people, we failed to prioritize social development and sadly neglected the health and social structures. We are paying the price now and it is still not too late to fully comprehend that the future after the virus will be focused more and more on the non-military aspects of national security.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)