IN a move that portends danger and has far-reaching consequences, the Punjab government has decided to reopen some businesses which had been shut as part of precautionary measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. The provincial government through three notifications has given the green signal to businesses — which include pharmaceutical and surgical goods, as well as textile, leather, sports equipment, laundry and money exchange services — to resume operations subject to the “implementation of precautionary measures”. The industries have been asked to restrict staff to a minimum and ensure measures against the spread of the coronavirus. However, the orders fail to say how these restrictions will be enforced. The death toll in Punjab stands at 15 and there have been more than 1,800 confirmed coronavirus cases there, with a spike in recent days that has been greater than in the other provinces. The provincial government’s decision to reopen these businesses and go back to ‘normal life’ could not be more ill-timed. Given the rise in cases in Punjab and the global reality of Covid-19’s devastating effects, the rush to go back to routine life is perplexing. What is more alarming is that the decision has come at a time when a team of Chinese doctors in Lahore has advised exactly the opposite. The experts from China have suggested a 28-day extension of the lockdown, and invalidated theories that the coronavirus would fade in the summer. Furthermore, they said that social-distancing measures play an important role in containing the infection. Punjab’s chief minister and health minister both met the visiting delegation and said the province would undertake all necessary measures to ensure the successful implementation of the Chinese model. Yet, businesses have been allowed to reopen without any clarity on the enforcement of precautionary measures.
While the negative impact of a lockdown on the economy is a valid concern and reopening pharma and surgical companies reflect the government’s healthcare concerns, allowing other businesses to start functioning at this point betrays a lack of wisdom. Punjab must reconsider this decision and heed the advice of Chinese doctors who are all too familiar with the virus’s spread. The province must also take note of the remarks of PTI leader Asad Umar, who has acknowledged that while the economy has taken a hit, a lockdown is effective in slowing the number of coronavirus cases. The country’s healthcare system simply cannot cope with an escalation, which is likely if precautions are not strictly enforced.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020