Lockdown, what lockdown?

Published April 12, 2020
Women line up for Ehsaas payments at a location in the city on Saturday, disregarding social distancing requirements.—PPI
Women line up for Ehsaas payments at a location in the city on Saturday, disregarding social distancing requirements.—PPI

KARACHI: When the lockdown took effect on March 23, the administration was on its toes. Police personnel, Rangers and even army men in a few places were alert and checking to see if people were abiding by the rules, ie staying home and not travelling unnecessarily, and wearing face masks if indeed they had to venture out. But on Saturday, when the lockdown in the metropolis was nearing completion of its third week, a drive from district Central to district South showed that lockdown fatigue had begun to settle in.

There was quite a bit of traffic on the roads, though definitely not as much as was the case in the pre-lockdown period. Social distancing had been thrown to the wind, while law enforcers also seemed tired and jaded. Earlier there were strict checks at pickets by the men in uniform. Indeed violators were told to wear masks, while some unfortunate souls, usually youths out on joyrides — definitely not recommended in these troubled times — were made into murghas, an unenviable fate.

Lockdown fatigue seems to be setting in

However on Saturday the cops and other men in uniform seemed more relaxed; some were chatting with one another while others were absorbed in their mobile phones. And this was well after 5pm, after the lockdown strictures were supposed to take effect. Even a few shopkeepers had their shutters half open, in the hope that a stray customer or two might amble in. Yet things appeared to be a little better as one made one’s way into district South, as there was lesser traffic on the streets of Saddar and the business district. Perhaps this is because this area is where the high and mighty of the land live and work, and the law enforcers had to ensure things were looking just right in front of the boss’s view.

This apparent complacency seems quite dangerous, especially on a day when news broke of a number of localities in the city being sealed to contain a Covid-19 outbreak. Both the authorities and the people need to do much better if this city is to emerge from this crisis with minimum collateral damage.

Experts — among them Chinese who have apparently contained the outbreak in their land — have been telling the authorities in Sindh and elsewhere to increase the lockdown period. Indeed this comes with its difficulties, particularly the fact that daily wagers have been out of work, and many are on the verge of starvation. Moreover, the state’s distribution of aid and cash is not without hitches, as long lines form wherever help is being distributed, at a time when social distancing is the buzzword.

So, where to from here? If the lockdown is extended, people’s miseries will be multiplied, especially if the shambolic aid-distribution process is not reformed. This can create a law and order situation. On the other hand, if the state takes it easy, a spike in coronavirus cases is very possible, which will spell disaster for our feeble health system.

The options are not too many for our rulers. But out-of-the-box solutions are required and required now if the city, province and country is to beat the Covid-19 crisis, while at the same time maintaining social harmony and law and order.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020

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