Pakistan ‘sleep walking’ into virus disaster, says Bilawal

April 13, 2020

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In this screengrab photograph taken on April 13, 2020, opposition lawmaker Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during a Zoom interview with AFP from Karachi. — AFP
In this screengrab photograph taken on April 13, 2020, opposition lawmaker Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during a Zoom interview with AFP from Karachi. — AFP

Pakistan risks “sleepwalking” into a coronavirus catastrophe where death tolls reach levels seen in the West and perilously under-resourced hospitals are pushed to the brink, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told AFP on Monday.

According to Bilawal, the country's response to the pandemic so far had been characterised by federal foot-dragging over a comprehensive lockdown and an unwillingness to divert cash to the buckling health care system.

“There is definitely a false sense of security that we've seen from the start of this crisis,” Bilawal said in a video call from his office in Karachi.

“We have seen a desire to ignore science and facts and the examples of what has been happening around us internationally, which has hampered us taking the timely and necessary action.”

Pakistan so far has recorded 95 deaths from a total of 5,478 cases, but experts worry the impoverished country of 220 million people — many of whom live in cramped, multi-generational households — is only at the start of the coronavirus curve.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has faced particular criticism after saying Pakistan could not afford a country-wide lockdown, citing the economic damage that would be unleashed.

A de facto lockdown is now in place across the country after provinces acted independently to shutter schools and companies, but officials are under pressure to loosen restrictions as the economy suffers.

Pakistan's first Covid-19 cases were reported in Sindh, where officials had ordered a lockdown last month.

Bilawal noted that provincial health advisers, academics and experts had recommended tougher measures across Pakistan.

“We can bring the economy back to life, but we cannot bring people back to life,” he said. Earlier today, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had made similar remarks in a press conference in which he complained of "mixed signals" from the Centre over the coronavirus situation.

In his talk with AFP, Bilawal said: “If we just hope for the best and don't prepare for the worst [...] then Pakistan is sleepwalking into a disastrous situation and I genuinely fear for the consequences.”

The PPP lawmaker said the situation in Pakistan could be worse than the United States or western Europe due to a shortage of protective gear for medical staff, a lack of critical care beds and other problems with the underfunded health care system.