EMBOLDENED by the falling positivity rate and lower coronavirus-related hospital admissions, the National Command and Operation Centre has allowed the reopening of businesses in the country. Timelines have been announced according to which several sectors, ranging from restaurants and transport to educational institutions, beauty parlours and gyms, will reopen. Even poorly ventilated venues, such as cinemas and marriage halls can start functioning again with government-mandated SOPs in place.
However, the Pakistan Medical Association expressed pertinent concerns over the decision and has said the government should have at least waited for the consequences of Eidul Azha to become clear. The PMA’s general secretary said it would take 10 days to know if the virus spread rapidly during the festival, and also pointed to potentially super-spreading high-turnout events such as the upcoming Muharram gatherings and Independence Day celebrations. These are valid concerns and the authorities must consider them very seriously. The haste in arriving at this decision is baffling, considering that even the prime minister had warned of a post-Eid spike in coronavirus cases if caution were not exercised. However, the government has made its announcement on the reopening of every commercial sector less than a week after Eid celebrations ended. In its elation over Pakistan’s Covid-19 success, the government rushed to give this good news to businesses across the board that all is well and life can go back to normal. This attitude is dangerous and defies logic. The post-Eid period should have been a test for the government to gauge the situation. In Punjab, cases had dropped to an average of below 100 during the last week, but have again increased to around 300. With no restrictions and the public geared to go back to normal, the threat of community transmission is high. The government must reconsider its stance. It has the unenviable task of striking a balance between a controlled reopening of the economy and safeguarding public health, and these decisions must be taken with vigilance and caution as priorities. No doubt, Pakistan is fortunate in having lowered the Covid-19 curve and has prevented an all-out catastrophe such as we have seen in countries where hospitals and morgues were inundated. Yet, the authorities must not allow their optimism to ignore the hard facts: Covid-19 is a fast-spreading, deadly virus that has crippled many sophisticated healthcare systems and devastated communities. All decision-making must be done with cautious optimism — not wishful thinking.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2020