NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 21

Covid-19, governance and people’s attitude

As cases of Covid-19 in Pakistan have surpassed 100,000 and deaths from the virus have also exceeded 2,000 across the country, there is still indecision on part of the government about policies and strategies to contain its spread. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned Pakistan’s government that it has not fulfilled even one of several preconditions for easing lockdown due to which the infection and death rate are growing. Therefore, the WHO has asked Pakistan to be quite careful and reimpose lockdown. On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan has unequivocally stated that his government cannot reimpose lockdown due to the economic woes and large-scale poverty in the country. Now this is a really difficult situation for the country and its people.

If one analyzes the situation then the antipodal stance of the WHO and the government of Pakistan is quite logical but what needs to be done is the most important question. States and governments at times face such situations and the answer is vision, sagacity, tact and farsightedness. It is the leadership that has to demonstrate qualities to pull the country out of a difficult situation. It is important to note that PM Khan and the entire government apparatus in Pakistan has been constantly appealing to the people that the government does not want to force the people to remain indoors and also shut down their workplaces. However, in order to do so the people have to take extreme care and responsibility to keep social distance, maintain personal hygiene and avoid unnecessary going out of their homes. However, the people have totally disregarded all of the appeals of the government and healthcare functionaries in this regard. Since the easing of the lockdown after the holy month of Ramazan, people in the length and breadth of the country have been filling marketplaces. What one can observe personally and reports from the media also suggest that most of the people have been going to the bazaars unnecessarily and instead of buying necessary items they have been buying unnecessary items or window shopping which can be avoided till the routine life returns. For instance, people have been seen buying clothes, shoes etc, which they could live without at least for one year or season. So it is a sheer display of irresponsibility on part of the general public that Covid-19 cases have surpassed one hundred thousand and they are growing rapidly.

The government has to make a final appeal and warning to the people that if they are not going to display caution, it would be compelled to enforce a strict lockdown. In this regard, PM Khan should also set aside his considerate attitude regarding the livelihood of people. A stringent imposition of lockdown for a month would not make people die from hunger as there is sufficient human capital in Pakistani society to at least provide food for the hungry. The government has to reimpose a stringent lockdown in the country to contain the pandemic because people are not going to pay any heed to contain social distance and avoid going out of homes unnecessarily. One important factor for the indifferent attitude of people is that most of them do not think that the coronavrius is really a serious danger. There seems to be a failure on part of government communication strategists which could not convince the majority of people to be cautious. The government’s communication strategy for the disease should have been very aggressive and fear-infusing to stop people from going out of homes and keeping social distancing while outside due to some pressing needs.

It is important to note that the logic of PM Khan that the economy cannot be shut down for long has a lot of substance. However, it is not correct for the entire economy and only parts of it. The government opened up the necessary construction industry which was an appropriate decision, because in the industry the workers generally remain at a distance but opening up of the consumer items industries, particularly the textile mills, was not at all advisable. The reason was that the non-food consumer items would result in an increased supply of the items to the stores which would unnecessarily attract buyers, particularly women, to markets. And this has really happened. So, there is no point in letting the industries and stores of unnecessary consumer, particularly non-food items, operate because most people, who have violated the rules of social distancing, have been thronging these stores. So much has been the intensity and frequency of people visiting marketplaces to buy clothes and shoes or related unnecessary goods that it has been nearly impossible for law enforcement agencies personnel to implement the government’s standard operating procedures regarding the containment of the virus. So while the government’s stance has logic but people’s attitude has put a damper on all the efforts of the government agencies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Here, it is important to discuss why people are behaving so recklessly. The foremost reason is that people have no idea about the world and their place in it. In other words, their worldview is quite distorted. Secondly, ignorance is widespread and this is because of people’s priorities. Thirdly, the standard of education, which only makes people superstitious and callous in Pakistan, leaves a lot to be desired. It is also very important for the state of Pakistan to learn a lesson from the situation about the quality of education in the country. Fourthly and more importantly, people have become completely pleasure-seeking or hedonistic. It is because of the pervasion and prevalence of post-modernist culture among people. This, in turn, is due to the centrality of the mainstream and social media in the lives of people, which have made people outright hedonist and to enjoy each and every aspect and moment of life with little care for the consequences. Under the influence of post-modernist culture, people in Pakistan are becoming completely consumerist and materialist that is the reason they have been visiting markets and bazaars without care or caution. They are even taking their toddlers with them. Now the government has to come up with a new policy for the pandemic, keeping in view the observations. Only then a successful containment of the disease is possible.