FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 16

Third wave deepens uncertainties

New fears about a loss of lives and livelihoods are growing after restrictions have been Reimposed in the wake of a third wave of the coronavirus. It is feared the resurgence in the pandemic could be more devastating than the first two waves as people continue to defy SOPs, while positivity rates have increased to over 14pc in some cities of Pakistan.

Campuses, which were closed earlier due to high positivity rates, will remain shut until April 11. It means thousands of teachers and staff of private schools will have to live without salaries for another month as there is no mechanism to support them, either from their own institutions or the government. According to the new guidelines, education institutes, which were earlier closed on March 15 for two weeks, will remain closed in COVID-19 hotspots until April 11. Ninth, matriculation and intermediate exams will be held as per the schedule announced by education boards. However, students of O/A-level remain uncertain about their future.

According to the latest data, the number of COVID-19 active cases has almost doubled in Pakistan in a few weeks, while the national positivity ratio has remained above 8pc, which is unprecedented in the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan also tested positive for COVID-19, two days after he was vaccinated. He set a bad example for not following SOPs, while he appealed to the common people to observe precautions. It also raised questions about the efficacy of the vaccine. It will discourage people from getting vaccinated, though experts offer many explanations for it.

It is a fact that most people do not want to be vaccinated for different reasons. President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s pictures getting the vaccination appeared in the media to encourage elderly people to get a jab, as the country has begun vaccinating citizens over the age of 60. Only 300,000 people aged over 60 have registered to receive the vaccine. The senior citizens have been instructed to register themselves using their National Identity Card numbers via SMS. After their details are verified against a government database, they are issued instructions on when and where to receive the vaccine. Vaccine recipients are asked to remain on-site at the vaccination centres for roughly 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine to monitor for any side-effects.

Another reason for most people not interested in the vaccination and observing SOPs is that the pandemic has not been as harmful in Pakistan as it was in other countries of the world. According to government data, the rate of severe disease and death in Pakistan has been far lower as compared with many European and other countries, including its neighbours. However, the infection rate has been rising over a few weeks, which may harm people seriously.

The government has reimposed broader lockdowns, with no mobility except for emergencies, in 10 cities where the positivity ratio is over 8pc. They are Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Swat and Muzaffarabad. The positivity rate in Peshawar exceeded 14pc a few weeks ago. The government earlier implemented a policy of smart lockdowns in which people had liberty to move. However, according to the new policy, residents of the areas concerned will be informed about the duration of lockdowns and suggested to store edibles. People will not be able to move freely, except for emergencies. Edibles will be provided at their doorsteps, through online services. The government has also decided to close commercial activities by 8pm and ban all types of indoor gatherings — cultural, musical and religious. Two safe days a week will also be observed. Inter-city public transport will operate at 50pc and rail service at 70pc capacity. Complete closure of amusement parks will be ensured and reduced presence would be observed in all courts. Stringent protocols for tourism will also be followed in Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir and other tourist places.

Pakistan suffered huge economic losses despite tackling the health challenge most successfully as compared to regional and other countries of the world. The deaths in Pakistan are negligible as compared to other countries. However, Pakistan’s economy and poor people are set to suffer in the third wave of pandemic. According to data released by the government, the pandemic caused a loss of over Rs3 trillion to the national income last year and the situation is not certain this year either. The provision of smooth food supplies and a check on their prices will be a big challenge for the government if the situation worsens.

People are worried about the possible shortage of essentials and their rising prices after they had to face the ordeal in the wake of the pandemic last year. Inflation has already risen and the central bank has warned that it could rise beyond the target set for the current fiscal year. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Pakistan’s inflation may jump up to 13pc, but the government’s estimate is between 11pc and 13pc for the current fiscal year.

The pandemic is also feared to hit Pakistan’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index, which is constantly on the decline. The latest poverty estimates show that 24pc of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. If the rot is not stopped, Pakistan will face serious challenges to feed its growing population in future. In a report, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Pakistan was among three Asian countries where the rate of undernourishment due to poverty was the highest. The highest rates of undernourishment in 2017 were observed in Afghanistan (29.8pc), Timor-Leste (24.9pc), and Pakistan (20.3pc), the ADB reported in the 50th edition of its annual statistical report.

Experts say a high population growth rate and unfavourable water and climatic conditions in the country mean that concerns about food security may increase manifold over the next two to three decades. The coronavirus epidemic poses challenges which require short-term solutions.