By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
As of today, the total number of confirmed Wuhan Virus (Covid-19) has crossed two thousand and is now at 2,039. Punjab leads with 708 cases followed by Sindh 676, Khyber Pakhtunkwa 258, Balochistan 158, Gilgit 184, Islamabad 54 and Pak Occupied Kashmir 6.
The figures are expected to rise exponentially in the next few days. If a broad view is taken, the cases stem from two sources – those who returned from Iran and from those who attended the Tabligh rally at Raiwind Lahore from 11th to 13th March.
The media does not talk about China. While the Iran cases were expected, it is surprising the authorities allowed a huge congregation of the Tabkighi in Raiwind, Lahore, where over 2 lakh devotees were in attendance. The five day conference was luckily shortened to three days March-11 to 13, but by then the damage has been done.
Surprisingly, the country has not been subjected to a total “lock down” as in India and PM Imran Khan in his first address to the nation gave his own reasons for this partial lock down. He said that Pakistan’s economic situation was not that of United States or Europe.
There is poverty in the country with 25 percent of the population being in extreme poverty and that a national quarantine could result in the poor dying from hunger. But the real reason is said to be that the Big Business Lobby in Pakistan had in fact intervened as total lock down would have affected them most.
This could be true as there have been various instances in the past where the business lobby has worked behind the scenes to take care of their interests making it appear as if it is being done in the interest of poor people.
It is very interesting to see the national narrative of the history of the virus and its spread in Pakistan given by the National Institute of Health, Epidemiology division of Pakistan. China is obviously spared except of a mention of its origin in Wuhan market. The report chronologically says that on 31st December the WHO alerted about the “cluster of pneumonia cases unknown(?) ,in Wuhan. Then it flags Jan 7th when the Chinese authorities identified a “new” virus and that on 12th Jan China shared the genetic sequence with others. On 30th Jan. WHO declared the Covid 2019 as a Public Health Emergency.
There is hardly a mention of China and of the state of the people who returned from China. It is now said that PM Imran took the right decision of keeping the students in Wuhan itself and not make any attempt to bring them back to Pakistan.
The borders to Iran, Afghanistan and India were closed and international flights were cancelled till April 4th.
Then the Pakistan Health Official claimed that the situation was under “control”. Partial lockdown though, was enforced in Punjab where only pharmacies, bakeries and dairy shops were allowed to open for a specific period of time. Perhaps the claim should be interpreted that after the Army deployment in full, the situation is said to be under control.
There are other reports to indicate that the officials are scrambling to contain the disease by appealing to the public to remain inside their houses but that has had little or no impact on the masses. At any rate there has been no mass migration of workers from the cities as happened in some places in India.
On 29th March, the DG of ISPR, Maj. Gen. Banar Iftikhar declared that under Article 245 and Sec 131 A, the Army has been deployed in aid of the civil authorities on the request of the Interior Minister. Though it is said that it was mentioned that it was on the request of the Interior Minister, the Army is said to have taken ‘suo motu’ decision to deploy armed forces every where from Checkposts to Pickets in the cities all in the name of aid to civil power.
This is what happens in a “hybrid state” where the Army calls the shots from behind the scene. ( I first saw the use of the term ‘ Hybrid State’ in describing Pakistan in the ‘Print.’) Was Imran Khan consulted on this? No one knows. As expected, the already fragile economy has taken a big hit after the spread of virus in the country.
The Financial Adviser to Prime Minister, Hafeez Shaikh is said to be having meetings almost every day mainly with the Economic Coordination Council.
Pakistan is said to have lost 30 Billion Pak Rupees already (182 million US $) and in the next few months may lose close to 1.3 Billion US $. Cash strapped Pakistan already in deep debt has made a request to the International Monetary Fund for a “Rapid Instrument Facility” to shore up its foreign exchange reserves and budgetary support and IMF is said to be considering the request favorably. We do not know whether China has been approached as yet.