Troubling projections

Published June 16, 2020

THE alarm bells are ringing at a deafening pitch as the latest Covid-19 projections for Pakistan come to light. Based on the rapidly rising rate of infections and daily deaths in the second week of June, the data tells a harrowing story. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are galloping towards the 150,000 mark — a trajectory which federal minister Asad Umar has warned may result in doubling the number of cases by the end of the month, with up to 1.2m by end July. The government’s projections are indeed worrisome. Yet, figures revealed by an Imperial College London simulation are even more startling, as they model the worst-case scenarios for hundreds of countries: the UK data simulates that, in the extreme event that no action is taken to curb the spread, 2.2m people could die of Covid-19 in Pakistan between February 2020 and June 2021. The same analysis suggests that, with interventions and mitigation, deaths could be lowered by at least 40pc.

This data is not a prediction, but it clearly points to how critical a decisive, data-led mitigation strategy is in determining which path Pakistan takes. The government has repeated appeals for the public to wear face masks, practice distancing and understand the gravity of the crisis. Numerous times, the term ‘smart lockdown’ has been invoked to show how authorities will react to Covid-19 transmissions by sealing virus hotspot localities. More recently, and for the first time, an ambitious target of 100,000 daily tests — which is four times more than the number of daily tests being conducted at present — has also been announced. But as projections create panic and citizens flout SOPs despite repeated appeals, are these steps enough?

The death and doom unleashed by Covid-19 has brought a crisis of apocalyptic proportions to our doorstep. The situation demands unprecedented leadership, intelligent strategising and inclusive decision-making. Pakistan is running into a full-on horror show which will not let up if the government continues its policy of pleading and volunteer policing. This is the time for the government and opposition to abandon hostilities and work together to devise an overarching plan. The centre and provinces must be united in planning for what will be one of Pakistan’s darkest periods. How can healthcare staff and infrastructure be boosted; what can be done to effectively keep people at home; what economic relief can be provided to those hit hardest; what arrangements can be made for mass funerals; how will the psychological toll of these fatalities be lessened — are just some of the key challenges our political leadership should be addressing. The attitude of outright rejecting lockdowns despite strong evidence that lives can be saved is unacceptable. There are several good examples from other countries which can be applied in Pakistan. To avoid walking blindly into this fast-approaching disaster, the government needs to produce a concrete strategy.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2020

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