FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 2

Uncertainties deepen

New fears about a loss of lives and livelihoods are growing after restrictions have been reimposed in the wake of a new wave of the coronavirus. It is feared the resurgence in the pandemic could be more devastating than the first three waves as people continue to defy SOPs, while positivity rates are increasing in major cities of Pakistan.

Education institutes have shut and reopened many times during the pandemic. It means thousands of teachers and staff of private schools had to live without salaries for many months as there was no mechanism to support them, either from their own institutions or the government. According to the latest data, the number of active cases in Pakistan has reached the highest level in 2021. The National Command and Operation Centre said the number of active cases stood at an all-time high at 92,844. The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the country has risen to 25,415 and the total number of cases has reached 1,144,341.

It is a fact that most people do not want to be vaccinated for different reasons. People are not interested in getting a jab or observing SOPs because 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 Punjab government has reimposed tighter restrictions in major cities till September 15 due to an uptick in cases in the province. The new restrictions will come into force with immediate effect in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Khanewal, Mianwali, Sargodha, Khushab, Bahawalpur, Gujranwala and Rahim Yar Khan, according to a notification from Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department. Under the restrictions, market and business activities will shut by 8pm. Saturday and Sunday will be observed as closed days. There will be a complete ban on indoor weddings. However, outdoor weddings will be allowed with a maximum limit of 300 guests under strict Covid-19 protocols. Shrines and cinemas will also remain closed. There will be a complete ban on contact sports. All gyms will remain open only for vaccinated individuals. Normal office working hours for public and private offices will continue. However, the attendance level has been reduced from 100pc to 50pc. The maximum occupancy level of public transport is reduced from 70pc to 50pc. All amusement parks, water sports, and swimming pools will remain closed. However, public parks will remain open under strict protocols.

The province has been witnessing a gradual rise in the infection rate. Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid said that Pakistan was facing the fourth wave of the pandemic and the presence of the Delta variant posed a huge challenge. 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 to them at their doorsteps, through online services. 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 new 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 serious challenges which require short and long-term solutions.