At the beginning of June, the World Health Organization sent a letter to all the provinces of Pakistan announcing that the country ranked among the top 10 countries in the world reporting the highest number of new cases of COVID-19 per day. After some debate, Pakistan decided to impose a “smart lockdown” trace and testing strategy in parts of the country that are considered hotbeds for coronavirus.
Currently there are 173,590 confirmed cases in Pakistan and 3,590 have died of the virus. The government has asked citizens to take precautionary measures, avoid going out, wear masks and wash hands as the healthcare system will not be able to handle the burden of new cases.
Eased restrictions leads to surge in cases
In mid-March, the Pakistani government began to implement its first lockdown measures. Prime Minister Imran Khan had been saying from the start that Pakistan could not afford a full lockdown because of fears that 25% people who live below the poverty line would die of hunger. The government banned public gatherings, shut down restaurants and all other daily activities and closed education institutions until July 15. While stores selling daily use items, vegetable and fruit shops and pharmacies remained open.
On May 10, just two weeks before Eid, an Islamic celebration after Ramadan, the government eased the lockdown after the business community started putting pressure on the government to relax restrictions. The Supreme Court of Pakistan also took a Suo Motu Notice (when a judge takes notice of a public interest incident without any party applying for its consideration) and issued a directive asking the government to reopen shopping malls across the country.
The Pakistan Medical Association believed that the government should have taken the virus seriously and Supreme Court should have reconsidered their opinion. Doctors were afraid that the country did not have the necessary infrastructure to deal with patients if the government chose to push for herd immunity.
When the lockdown was eased, the public was asked to “become responsible and intelligent citizens”; however, people flocked to markets for Eid shopping by the thousands and violated all SOPs. In an interview with market goers refused to believe that coronavirus exists.
After a month of opening up, Pakistan had over 100,000 cases which has put severe pressure on the healthcare system.
As expected, the cases started rising and the World Health Organization letter to the provinces pointed out that Pakistan was not conducting enough tests and must increase them at all costs. To which Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, tweeted:
Pakistan’s Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives, Asad Umar, warned in a press conference that the confirmed cases of COVID-19 could double by the end of this month and reach 1 million to 1.2m by the end of July if precautionary measures are not taken by the public.
Smart lockdown arrives
Last week’s decision by the Pakistani government to implement ‘selective ‘or ‘smart’ virus lockdown was met with confusion and challenges. A smart lockdown is targeted tracking, tracing, testing and quarantine mechanism with the help of national security apparatus to stop the spread of coronavirus. The aim is to seal the areas that have a high number of the infected population while easing restrictions on economic activities under strict SOPs. But social media users are debating this move as they believe that Pakistan should go under full lockdown.
Some provinces like, the Sindh, are facing challenges to implement the smart lockdown effectively because of a lack of resrouces, manpower and public misunderstanding.
After the letter from the WHO, all provinces started reimposing a lockdown in areas that are hot spots of coronavirus. The government is following a trace, test and quarantine strategy, following strict protocols outlined by the WHO and is also using technology, police force and a team of volunteers to help identify adherence restrictions.