As the world slowly comes to grips with the grim reality of a fast-growing infectious disease COVID-19, the focus has been redirected to its containment and minimizing loss of life. Amidst a worldwide toll of almost 2 million Coronavirus cases, countries are hard-pressed with the predicament of enforcing large scale lockdowns in their sprawling metropolises to control the pandemic or risk unprecedented fallout if effective containment measures are not taken. It is justifiably a tough decision to make as lockdowns come at a frightening cost. They slow down businesses and throttle the economies and cause massive hardship for daily wage earners. It comes as no surprise as unemployment figures have skyrocketed in the worst-hit European countries i.e. Italy, Spain, the UK, and the United States of America. More and more people have filed for social security. 

Pakistan, being a developing country,  had to consider a number of factors before opting for a complete lockdown. It realized early on that enforcing strict social distancing and shutting out people in the homes translates into soaring unemployment for the lower and less privileged segments of the society. Pakistan needed to ensure that the response to the disease is commensurate with the facts on the ground. Lockdown in major cities was preceded by calls for social distancing and sticking to professional health guidelines and ensuring optimal personal hygiene. Pakistan is not alone in its tentative approach towards a complete lockdown. Nations across the globe have focused more on greater social distancing than opting for strict curfew-like lockdowns. However, a lockdown is extremely effective at breaking the chain of transmission for the virus. It is crucial for containing the virus at a junction when there is no cure available. It allows government machinery to devise mechanisms for managing crises and strengthening health infrastructure to deal with an overwhelming stream of patients. 

On the other hand, in a country like ours with limited means, a full-grown pandemic could spell disaster if left unchecked. According to a world statistics website, Pakistan has around 5493 verified coronavirus cases at the moment. The figures may mask the true extent of the outbreak given hundreds of asymptomatic carriers of the virus along with a relatively lower rate of testing and scarcity of testing kits in hospitals. Despite a small number of cases and with all the preventive measures in place, the economy could suffer a loss of around Rs2.5 trillion due to the outbreak as per the figures issued by the planning commission of the country. The number could easily add up in the coming weeks as Pakistan ramps up the production of health equipment and provides relief packages to its hardest-hit citizens. It may take months to rein in the pace of the pandemic and flatten the curve. 

Learning from the examples of China and Europe, lockdown is the only means to disrupt the chain new cases of COVID-19. Early statistics make a convincing case in favour of strict lockdown conditions. China lifted the lockdown in Wuhan on April 9 after 11 weeks and on April 8, reported no new cases of the virus. Italy, the hardest-hit European country with 18847 deaths and 147,577 verified cases, seemed to be in control after a complete lockdown. Pakistan, given its dwindling resources and on top of that being the world’s 06 largest population of 197 million people, any misstep could herald a massive humanitarian crisis. 

Under the circumstances, it makes more sense to go for a complete lockdown. There will definitely be a significant drop in the country’s  GDP and various other sectors might be adversely affected. Nonetheless, it is a price we must be ready to pay to ensure the safety of our people and to ward off long term ramifications of the pandemic. The negative consequences are far greater than short term losses to the economy. It may be borne in mind that we are faced with a global pandemic that requires prompt and extraordinary measures. The disease does not discriminate. No one is immune to it. It is high time that we rallied behind our government in its fight against COVID-19 and proved ourselves, responsible citizens, by adopting health guidelines and practising personal hygiene.

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Leena Shah Mir is a freelance analyst from Gwadar, Balochistan.

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