IN SPITE of some good work done by stakeholders within their area of operation, the country remains divided over a national strategy to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases exceeding 1,300. Efforts are still dispersed despite warnings that the crisis could turn into a huge calamity if we do not get our act together. Luckily, there are examples of how to proceed in this calamity, and the leading role played by the Sindh government in the country’s fight against Covid-19 should provide valuable lessons for both the central government and the other provinces. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s proactive leadership has been appreciated both at home and abroad; Sindh was the first province in the country to forcefully highlight the lack of preparedness that exists at different levels when the virus was knocking at our door, and to draw the federal government’s attention to the poor quality of screening of inbound passengers at airports, as well as the absence of quarantine facilities there. Sindh also pointed out the mishandling of the return of pilgrims from Iran, the epicentre of Covid-19 in the region, at a makeshift quarantine facility at the Taftan border. Most of the initial, confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, especially in Sindh, can be traced to the batch of pilgrims returning from Iran and allowed to leave for home without proper testing.
In many ways, the province has provided the other federating units and the central government with a roadmap to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It has tested people more aggressively and was the first province to implement a lockdown as an extreme social-distancing measure, despite strong opposition from Islamabad. It is also leading the others in restricting religious gatherings after the tablighi congregations in Lahore and near Islamabad proved to be another source of the Covid-19 illness. Even the first two confirmed cases of the illness in the Gaza Strip were traced to a tablighi gathering in Pakistan. In short, the ruling PPP in Sindh has done what few expected of it, and the other three provincial administrations, together with Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, have mostly followed in its footsteps by taking certain actions, that though considered harsh for the poor, will help contain the spread of Covid-19 in their geographical jurisdictions.
Although the federal health adviser Dr Zafar Mirza has been proactive in coordinating with the provinces, it seems that the centre is still uncertain about a national strategy, given some of its concerns regarding a lockdown, such as the impact on the poor. But there can be no further dilly-dallying — especially in a country where people reject measures that are prescribed to protect them from injury. The war on Covid-19 cannot be fought effectively, let alone won, without developing a consensus and a national strategy — and no effort can succeed in isolation.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020