IN a move that flies in the face of ominous data, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to further ease lockdown restrictions across the country and to reopen almost all sectors of industry — an unfortunate decision that will see a greater surge in coronavirus infections.

The announcement was made by Mr Khan after a meeting of the NCC which deliberated on the rapid increase in daily new cases and deaths, yet did not come up with a prevention strategy.

Instead, the plan, according to the prime minister, is to rely on citizen responsibility.

Take precautions or you will continue to suffer, he said.

Learn to live with it, as the virus will spread till there is a vaccine, he added.

What is most shocking is the decision to resume tourism in the country.

The writing is on the wall: thousands more will contract the infection and a number of people will die if the government does not come up with effective solutions while it waits for a vaccine that is at least a year away from production and distribution.

It is almost as if the top leadership does not read the news or the alarming Covid-19 data.

Data and news reports are crucial indicators of what is to come and must be examined closely.

Pakistan is now in the world’s top 10 countries when it comes to new daily deaths and cases.

In May alone, 1,100 people died of Covid-19 in the country, with 54,000 confirmed cases in 30 days.

A sample survey carried out by health authorities in Lahore estimated that around 670,000 people in the city may have contracted the virus, a figure far higher than the current one.

While questions can be asked about the size of the survey and why its findings are different from official numbers, it is alarming that the Punjab government ignored this study and its practical recommendations.

The worst is yet to come — a scenario predicted by Mr Asad Umar, who said violations of SOPs committed by people over Eid would be felt by mid-June.

Oddly, despite this concern, Mr Umar, too, has opposed a lockdown unless the healthcare system is overwhelmed.

Perhaps our leaders will understand the crisis better if they spend a few hours at emergency rooms in hospitals in the major cities.

Hospital staff are getting infected and dying; patients are being turned away because of lack of space.

But instead of building healthcare capacity and mulling an effective way to curb transmission, the government is talking about tourism.

Who will travel to Pakistan, where infection rates are climbing? It is still not too late to lock down and lower the transmission rate, as has been done in other countries which have flattened the curve and are slowly reopening.

Any later, and the people of this country will have to pay a high price.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2020

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