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M. Ziauddin

The third wave of the pandemic that the country has been experiencing since about more than a month now is proving to be alarmingly difficult to manage. The biggest problem that we as a nation has had to cope with since the advent of Covid-19 some two years ago has been our failure to comprehend the seriousness of the problem. The additional failure by the masses at an individual level to follow the simple preventive measures like using a mask, keeping a safe distance from other individuals inside and outside homes and frequently washing one’s hands the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) has confounded the problem manifold.

The relatively low incidence of the pandemic during its first and second waves in the country compared to many other countries including our immediate neighbors like India and Iran and most of the rich ones having more than adequate healthcare facilities like the US, UK, and Europe had caused the government.

Even at the Prime Minister’s level to approach the problem with emphasis on saving the livelihood of the poor rather than their lives which in our case had seemingly appeared not to have been threatened as much as in other countries. This had seemingly led to the serious slack which one saw in the official approach to the task of enforcement of the SOPs.

The reasons for the low incidence in Pakistan during the first and second waves could not be fathomed scientifically. It could have been due to a weaker variety of the virus that invaded Pakistan. Or perhaps because of the large youth bulge in our population. Or still, perhaps because of the lack of adequate testing equipment and facility detection has remained on the lower side

What, however, had worsened the situation by the time the country was caught by the third wave was the totally irresponsible behavior of the country’s political leadership–both at the government as well as the opposition level—since the very advent of the first wave. Not only the two had continued to refuse to discuss the problem mutually to arrive at some consensus approach on how best to handle it, they did not even miss a single opportunity to settle their political scores out in the open trying to contest their respective popularity among the masses. They contested elections in Gilgit-Baltistan with the full involvement of their supporters out in the open during the electioneering. One saw the same approach by the two when they fought a number of by-elections, and the opposition had remained one step ahead since around mid-2020 as it kept challenging the government in the open by holding huge public meetings and rallies.

The frequent angry bursts of the cabinet ministers against the opposition calling their leaders chors and dacoos and the provocative spins that its spin doctors regularly spewed via the broadcast and social media did continue to tempt the opposition into hitting back with equal force creating in the process a din of political abuses that pushed the fatal nature of pandemic into the background and took the eye of the people at large off the ball despite the timely establishment of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) under the Army command to tackle the pandemic. The NCOC is the implementing arm of the National Core Committee (NCC), the government’s lead agency in the anti-COVID-19 campaign, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Still, with the political parties seen not strictly observing the SOPs, it was only natural for the general public which was seemingly already highly skeptical about the incidence of the pandemic to regard the issue with any degree of seriousness. Violations of complete lock-downs and even smart lockdowns had become common and even quarantine rules were being broken with complete impunity.

And Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is supposed to be under quarantine after having tested positive for Covid-19, was photographed presiding over a meeting of his media team at his Bani-Gala residence. Maryam Nawaz, the Vice President of Opposition Muslim League (N) went one step ahead when she tried to mobilize a big crowd to accompany her to the NAB court which had summoned her on March 26. That it did not happen could be attributed to the sagacity of the NAB which canceled the court hearing in time.

According to the SOPs formulated by NCOC, a Covid-19 patient has to be quarantined for nine to 14 days. However, Prime Minister Khan attended the meeting only four days after testing positive for the disease.

In view of the alarming nature of the problem, the NCOC, in one of its latest moves has decided to impose broader lockdowns until April 11 with no mobility except for emergencies, in 10 cities where the positivity ratio is over 10pc. They are Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Swat, and Muzaffarabad. And despite facing an alarming situation, Pakistan is still a relatively safer place compared to many other countries as it ranks 30th in terms of the number of deaths. Prominent countries in which more deaths, as compared to Pakistan, have been reported include Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, South Africa, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, and others.

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