As the world ‘braces for impact’ in the wake of the COIVD-19 pandemic, the situation in Pakistan is threatening to go haywire. Neither the administration nor the civil society seems to understand the situation. Thanks to a much-delayed response, the government now finds itself knees deep in a pickle. On one hand, Pakistan simply cannot afford to impose a complete lockdown. On the other, it doesn’t have the resources to contain the pandemic if it breaks out of control. The government has to solve this ‘riddle’, quickly. But does civil society realize its role? “How, as a nation, are we responding to the situation?” We have to ask ourselves. Before we answer, let’s look at the examples of China and Italy.
The coronavirus pandemic broke out in Wuhan in December 2019. The government decides to lock down the city on 23rd January 2020. Fearing the lockdown to have come into effect too late, control measures were stepped up elsewhere across the country . As the situation worsened, the lockdown was tightened, turning the city into a set from a post-apocalyptic movie. So much so, that only one family member was allowed to go out every two days to purchase supplies. As if that was not enough, the lockdown also coincided with one of china’s most important cultural events, The Lunar New Year, which is the equivalent of festivals such as Christmas, Diwali, and Eid. Yet, in such a time of despair, a neighborhood in Wuhan started a trend that soon turned into a national slogan of solidarity. Videos started circulating on social media platforms, in which people could be seen shouting “Wuhan jiayou” out of their windows- which roughly means. “Stay strong Wuhan” or “Keep on going Wuhan”. The chant began to trend online across the country as people rallied to extend their support to the people of Wuhan . Despite all odds and loss, the Chinese people stood by their government, supported its measures and are now on the brink of victory.
Cases of the pandemic began to appear in Italy towards the end of January. Measures such as canceling flights to china were taken. In a matter of days, northern Italy was ravaged by the outbreak. Italy was caught napping, as it treated the outbreak in china like a science fiction movie, said Ms. Sandra Zampa, Under Secretary of Italy’s Health Ministry. The death toll skyrocketed in early march, leaving Italy with no choice but to impose a national quarantine on 9th march . The horrors of the pandemic shook the world and Italy began to become the real ‘warning’ to the rest of the world. Perhaps too late, but the Italian people understood the gravity of the situation and the government’s decision to lockdown. Reports of people singing famous songs from their balconies and windows are cities such as Naples, Salerno, and Siena. The slogan “Andrà Tutto benne”, which means everything will be all right, spread across the country in no time. Italy has been hit hard, but, together as a nation, they are fighting hard and are likely to turn the tide soon.
Coming back to Pakistan, we are anything but a cohesive society. Despite countless warnings, the common man (especially in the rural areas) still refuses to take the situation seriously. People are simply refusing to stay home unless forced to do so. As usual, the opinions and attitudes are painfully polarizing. For instance, a local politician in my locality tried to persuade me that it was nothing but Uncle Sam’s intricate plan to destroy the Chinese economy. Some confuse wishful thinking with faith, while others believe that caution is a sign of cowardice. Religious sects are at loggerheads blaming the other. Social media goes into a frenzy on hourly bases with fake news, blames, and ‘homemade remedies’. To make matters worse, essentials such as hand Sanitizers and disinfectants are either missing from the market or sold at three times the actual price. The same is true for edibles and other necessities.
However, in a remarkable display of generosity, people have come to the rescue of the less privileged by providing much-needed support in these hard times. The government has also announced a relief package despite its humble resources. But the ‘good’ resulting from these efforts is being undone by our erratic and irresponsible behaviors.
We can borrow a lot from the Chinese and the Italians. All of us will have to realize our social responsibilities if we are to win this war. The incompetence of the government, the conspiracy theories, and the religious aspects can be debated, agreed or differed with once the pandemic is over. Till then, we need to take precautions, ensure our safety, and rally behind the administration to fight the killer virus. Now is the time.
*Muhammad Yasir Ali is an independent researcher and public administration scholar, specializing in social policy studies.