PAKISTAN reported 675 new cases on Monday, with the positivity rate shooting up to 4.6 per cent.—Shakil Adil/White Star
PAKISTAN reported 675 new cases on Monday, with the positivity rate shooting up to 4.6 per cent.—Shakil Adil/White Star

THE sticking tape is peeling off the corners of the A4 size notice emblazoned with a mask emoji, carrying the message ‘no entry without mask’, pasted on the glass front of a grocery store in my neighbourhood.

Just a few months ago, there was a guard posted next to the entrance who would point to the notice as soon as anyone tried to walk into the store ‘bare-faced’. He also usually had a box of disposable masks for visitors to take if they didn’t have one.

That guard is nowhere to be found now, and as for the people inside, hardly anyone is wearing a mask properly; those that do have it strapped around their chins.

It is just a matter of time before that quirky notice on an A4 sheet of paper becomes part of the trash, swept up by the wind or a sweeper’s broom. Chances are, a replacement may never be put up.

The World Health Organisation has warned, time and again — despite the relaxation of restrictions — that masks and social distancing are part of the ‘new normal’ that people will have to live with, in the age of Covid. But moving around Karachi, the living and breathing heart of the country, one could be forgiven for forgetting that it is currently topping the virus charts in the country.

As a habit, I have my vaccination card out as we approach the entrance to a famous shopping mall in Clifton. Last year, this was one of the first establishments in the city to refuse entry to all those not fully vaccinated. I see the woman in her smart black summer suit approaching our car and I move to show her my card; but she merely shakes her head and smiles. “No need, dear,” she says before ushering us into the mall’s underground parking.

The infrared thermometers and temperature guns, which became ubiquitous in the age of Coronavirus, are also nowhere to be found.

The public may be in ‘ostrich mode’ but the figures tell a frightening story. In Sindh alone, there have been 582,623 confirmed cases and 8,118 deaths. Pakistan reported 675 new cases on July 4. The positivity rate has shot up to 4.6 per cent, as per the latest figures from the National Institute of Health Pakistan.

Recall that in early 2020, when the pandemic was first discovered to be spreading in Pakistan, it was the government of Sindh that took it upon itself to swing into action when nothing seemed to be happening at the federal level. Educational institutions were closed and classes moved online; marriage halls and public spaces were shut down and restaurants barred from serving indoors.

But despite the worrying rise in numbers, there have been no bold measures taken; neither by the provincial government, nor its health department. There was only a squeak from its education department, last week, in the shape of a circular regarding the wearing of masks and observing of social distancing.

So how is it that, despite an alarming increase in Karachi’s positivity rate, most (if not all) of its denizens have lost all fear or contracting the deadly virus, or any of its variants.

Ask anyone on the street and the response is likely to be: “Deadly? Do people still die of Covid-19?”

This devil-may-care attitude permeates the whole of the city – from government offices to commercial hubs and from eateries to animal markets – no one seems to give a hoot any more.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were being re-taught how to wash our hands and sanitise after each interaction. But now, try taking any of these precautions and you will be laughed at by your own friends, who will undoubtedly tell you something like: “Oh come on, don’t be so paranoid!”

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2022

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