THE worst fears about the second wave of Covid-19 in the country appear to be coming true as daily deaths, hospitalisations and positive cases rise at alarming rates. On a single day, Nov 14, 39,410 people were tested for the virus. Confirmed new cases on the same day were reported to be 2,443 — an indication that the national positivity ratio is a staggering 6pc.

The number of those succumbing to coronavirus-related complications, too, is rising. In recent days, a Peshawar High Court judge, an MPA and a journalist were among the over 180 recorded virus deaths across cities. All these indicators show that the Covid-19 curve in Pakistan is moving upwards despite the period of respite post-August when the curve was flattened through lockdown measures.

Read: Is Pfizer’s vaccine the answer to Pakistan’s Covid-19 problem?

Yet, even as we appear to be moving rapidly towards a dreadful stage of the pandemic, public activity — including superspreader events like political rallies and huge weddings — are in full swing. Out in public spaces, mask-wearing and distancing is still a rarity.

This casual attitude points to a tremendous failure of leadership. In a crisis that demands responsible behaviour, our government is flouting its own advice of limiting gatherings and is staging rallies to counter an equally careless opposition. During the first wave, rising cases and a fear of the unknown forced authorities to take action. The measures taken at the time included strong public messaging, strict enforcement of SOPs and a national conversation around the prevention of Covid-19.

Today, however, even as infection rates rival the stark figures of July, that vigour and direction are missing. Aside from the NCOC’s warnings, Covid-19 is largely absent from the government’s messaging and, as a result, fails to register as a threat with members of the public. Hence, SOPs are being flouted, mass events, often indoors, are taking place unabated and the appetite for prevention is low. It appears the government is currently playing a reactive rather than a proactive role — a strategy which has come at a high human and economic cost in other countries.

The government must get its house in order. The myth of the miracle immunity that the authorities had banked on after the first wave is fast evaporating as the data paints a bleak picture. Still, the loss of life and the economic setbacks can be limited if the government acts fast and tackles the pandemic as a priority. This can be done with a strong awareness campaign, ramped-up testing and strict restrictions on gatherings of more than a handful of people.

Mask wearing should be non-negotiable in workplaces and schools, as the rampant spread in these spaces may force an unwelcome closure at a later stage. With a renewed vigour led by data and science, the government should be able to lower the curve. Anything less is unacceptable.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2020

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