Daily wagers worry about next meal during lockdown

Published August 1, 2021
Daily wagers, who are the hardest hit during lockdowns, wait for work in the Water Pump area on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Daily wagers, who are the hardest hit during lockdowns, wait for work in the Water Pump area on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The announcement of a ‘partial complete’ lockdown in the city on Friday was perceived as mixed messaging on part of the Sindh government, with citizens expressing fears which ranged from loss of livelihoods to being fleeced by the police in the name of Covid-19 vaccination certificates.

The most chaotic scenes were witnessed at the vaccination centre set up at the Expo Centre and the Civil Hospital Karachi where thousands of citizens showed up fearing that their salaries would be deducted and their SIMs blocked.

Talking to Dawn, Madiha, a woman who went to the Expo Centre for her second vaccine dose, said that she returned home after waiting there for three hours. “The lines were long, just many people and no masks. People were getting agitated and I didn’t feel safe there,” she added.

Similar concerns were shared by other citizens who said that SOPs were not being implemented at vaccination centres which were turning into Covid hotspots given the unprecedented number of people without face masks there.

Amid the fourth wave of Covid-19, daily wagers in the city said the long lockdown bought back memories of last’s year nationwide lockdown. We will once again end up having one meal a day, they said.

“I drive a rickshaw in the day and in the evening work as a delivery rider,” said Ahmed (not his real name). “I made good money driving schoolteachers to work but since last year, things have been pretty bad and my rickshaw driving work is much less. I joined the food delivery service but even that isn’t doing well. Most people avoid giving tips, especially if they have paid via credit cards. This latest lockdown means we cut corners,” said the young father of two.

When asked if he was vaccinated, he showed his vaccination certificate.

Seeta, from the Mauripur area, says the latest lockdown means her employer will deduct money from her salary. “I work as a housemaid at Boat Basin. Since last year, my salary has gone down. Any days I miss out, the ladies are quick to deduct money for those days, saying that their husbands have faced pay cuts,” she says.

When asked if people in her area were following SOPs and going for vaccination, Seeta says, “No one has corona in my area. Mild flu, fever which is seasonal but no corona. My husband doesn’t want me to get vaccinated because he fears I will be infertile.”

Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research says that lockdown was much needed in the backdrop of the fourth wave. “However, the other pressing issue is of people don’t die of the coronavirus, they will die from hunger. This needs a solution,” Mr Ali said.

“As soon as the lockdown was announced, traders gave a statement that they cannot give salaries to employees for days when the markets are closed. There needs to be consensus so that one sector is not overburdened. There should be a tax through which we can give employment benefits.”

He stressed the Sindh government should make a strategy to provide some money to these daily wagers and informal sector workers, else this will grow worse. Seventy to 80 per cent of the workforce in Karachi is in the informal sector, Piler’s research suggests.

As the debate over lockdowns continues, many citizens have questioned why the government is not implementing SOPs — mandatory masks in public places and social distancing — which could have easily prevented the latest surge.

Hina Safi, a full-time mother and a blogger, said that many places in Malir were open in earlier lockdowns and there was little compliance to SOPs. “In previous lockdowns, Azeempura was always open. The milk and food shops were busy as always, no SOPs were being followed. Same is the case in Punjab Town. What is stopping the government from ensuring that SOPs are enforced?” she says.

“I and my husband got vaccinated. We haven’t let our children out of the house for more than a year now. Then I see people in the area without any masks.”

Similar views were shared by Majid Khan, who said: “Last year, in Paposh, everything was open. Full rush at nihari shops. By the time you get to North Karachi, the concept of masks ceases to exist. It’s much worse in the Surjani side. The lockdown is workable in areas where people have enough money to not worry. For many in Karachi, the coronavirus is a conspiracy.”

“Poor implementation of SOPs by businesses at the ground level will keep us in this endless cycle of lockdowns with some opening up,” Dr Fyeza Jehan, the chair of paediatrics at the Aga Khan University Hospital, said in a tweet while sharing her lockdown concerns. When reached for comments, she explained the story behind her views.

“Yesterday I went out to buy donuts for my children. I saw at the door that the guard was not wearing his mask and feared that this business had poor compliance so I asked my children to stay in the car. Inside none of the shop attendants wore masks,” she said.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021

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