A depressing shift

Published November 28, 2020

THE PPP’s trajectory on Covid-19 was a promising one during the first wave, but today, the party’s approach to the alarming surge in infections can be compared to that of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. This week, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tested positive for Covid-19 and went into isolation, yet his party continues to fully participate in the opposition PDM’s rallies and is encouraging its supporters to attend a planned event in Multan.

This is a depressing change from its earlier position when the PPP was clear in its messaging and actions on prevention protocols. In fact, Mr Bhutto-Zardari himself is one of the few politicians who is rarely seen in public without a mask, and is very aware of the serious nature of the potentially fatal virus. The fact that he, the Sindh chief minister and prominent PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira all tested positive despite taking precautions should be a wake-up call. But no such reckoning appears to be on the cards.

Far from the initial days of inspiring confidence by adopting a science-led approach to the pandemic, the current phase has seen the PPP abandon its firm position as it continues to lead superspreader events. The PML-N, too, is equally guilty of blatant disregard for the threat emanating from Covid-19 as it holds massive public meetings under the PDM banner. The fact that Ms Maryam Nawaz is campaigning for the safety of students who are being forced to take the MDCAT exams, and therefore risk exposure, demonstrates that the party understands the health risks. Yet, it is going full steam ahead where PDM rallies are concerned.

All this is happening as new Covid-19 cases, daily deaths and hospitalisations are reaching precarious levels. The positivity rates in Karachi and Peshawar are close to 18pc and 20pc respectively. The number of critically ill patients admitted to hospitals with serious respiratory issues is growing. More and more people on social media are posting about health complications and even deaths caused by the virus. The number of officially recorded Covid-19 deaths outside hospitals, too, is rising. The situation is soon going to take a very ugly turn if the PDM does not rethink its strategy and pause these rallies until Covid-19 is under control.

Here, the failure of the government to engage with the opposition is also to blame. Acrimony and pettiness are apt descriptions for our national politics — and the PTI’s aggressive stance vis-à-vis the opposition has not helped. With its penchant for arresting opposition leaders rather than engaging them in dialogue, it has created a perfect storm: an alienated opposition that is so fed up with the government’s witch-hunt that it perceives every request or plea as doublespeak. Better sense must prevail all around before we plummet towards a national catastrophe.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2020

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