Violating SOPs

Published May 16, 2020

A VIRUS which has wreaked havoc in far more developed countries is gaining ground in Pakistan, yet the public largely appears to have thrown caution to the wind and is resuming commercial activities as if it is somehow immune to the coronavirus.

Even as daily new cases rise, the relaxations in the lockdown continue and the public seems to be in no mood to comply with SOPs.

A record jump in Covid-19 cases was reported only days after the reopening of markets, with total cases crossing the 35,000 mark and deaths at 820.

Even as these figures climb, scenes in commercial hubs are reminiscent of pre-Covid-19 activity at shopping centres in the days ahead of Eid.

People are cramming into shops — many of them without face coverings — and blatantly flouting the government’s orders on limiting the possibility of transmission.

As a result, provincial governments have been forced to take action by shutting down shopping centres for violating SOPs despite repeated warnings by the authorities.

This lax attitude of traders and shoppers towards their self-protection raises several questions.

Why is it that so many people are unaware of the risks of contracting the potentially fatal virus and the circumstances in which it spreads?

The answer lies in the government’s messaging.

Despite the fact that it has been more than two months since the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country, the authorities have failed to convince the public of its danger.

This attitude is alarming and will come with very high costs; it can partly be attributed to the popularity of conspiracy theories which historically find many takers — such as the notion that Covid-19 will not affect people in countries with warm temperatures or that the BCG vaccine protects against it.

Ironically, some public figures, including the governor of Sindh, also perpetuated the mistaken belief that the coronavirus is not much worse than the seasonal flu.

The government must act responsibly and ensure that its message is unequivocal and lays out the facts: that the virus can be fatal, that there is no way to protect oneself other than by limiting contact, and that there is no guarantee that Pakistan’s numbers will remain lower than in the West.

Since it has made the decision to reopen the country and is relying so heavily on individual responsibility, the government must fulfil its duty to educate and protect the public.

In order to communicate effectively and send a clear message that is ingrained in the psyche of the nation, the federal and provincial governments must work together.

Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has shown the same, if not worse, political discord among political parties.

The government must move towards a working consensus with the opposition parties as disharmony will further dilute the message trickling down to the average citizen.

Bickering and unending blame games will not yield results.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2020

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