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Purposefully but carefully

It’s gone. Defeated. Let’s go. Back to normal. These are the statements majority of the Pakistanis are expressing as the government announced the opening of nearly all sectors of society. These statements reflect a dangerous mindset. A mindset that believes that the virus is killed and pre-COVID days are back. That is why before these mis-perceptions turn into missteps and grave mistakes. This is the time to reset the thinking and actions. Human behavior is repetitive and human mind is forgetful. While everybody is allowed a sigh of relief, nobody is allowed freedom unlimited. How to balance the urge to do everything that was forbidden and the imperative to curb the movement to maintain distance and safety is the challenge.

Pakistan has done a remarkable job on virus containment so far. The country stands out in its strategy to be different from others in the region and the world. To most experts Pakistan and the underdeveloped world were going to be suffering the worst of the virus due to paucity of resources and scarcity of health facilities. In March, Imperial College models predicted 70,000 deaths per day in August in Pakistan. As the virus spread in the world the prediction was that all countries will sooner or later become large victims of this deadly virus. Pakistan started slowly and preferred to pursue its own model of containment. In retrospect, the main factors which helped in making Pakistan a success case study were:

1- Focus on Lives and livelihoods-The Prime Minister differed in his approach to the rest of the world in imposing a blanket lockdown. His argument was that rich countries have enough resources that will enable them to provide money to people during lockdown. In poor countries, 80% of the economy is undocumented and the government does not have the resources or reach for unlimited subsidy. Ehsaas programme was introduced through which 150 billion rupees was transferred to the poor. This programme was the largest subsidy to poor in the history of the country. This provided relief in the first two months of the lockdown.

2- Technology based targeting – Pakistan is blessed with some wonderful talent in digital and IT skills. Over a period of time, Pakistan developed technology to identify hotspots and clusters of infection spread. This helped in specific targeting and area based strategies to help contain the virus in a more accurate manner.

3- Smart Vs Total Lockdown- The ability to zoom in area, locality and even streets and lanes which were hot spots helped Pakistan introduce the concept of Smart Lockdown. This was the strategy of only locking down specific areas and letting business activity resume in the other areas. This strategy has now become the most admired and followed strategy in the world.

Despite all this, Remember – this is containment not elimination of the virus. The minute we stop containing it by not following SOPs it will come raging back as it has in Iran, Australia and some other countries. That is why we need to treat it as an enemy whom we have captured but is likely to escape the minute we let our guard down. Phase II of this virus requires even more effort. In Phase I people were scared, governments uncertain and information patchy. Panic makes people take extra precautions. In Phase II complacency sets in due to the “feel good have done it” factor. Thus it is required that Phase II be planned even more meticulously. Planning should include:

1-From Awareness to Enforcement – Phase I included Public awareness about the dangers and precautions needed to safeguard against the virus. The public campaign on social media, electronic media and the ring tones of cell phones did that job effectively. Phase II is more about enforcement of SOPs. What is required is that as done with mosques each industry’s association should be made responsible for enforcing those SOPs on members. Transport, retail, tourism, restaurant industry associations should be taken on board and made accountable. If a particular sector is failing there should be a shared process of warning and then pre-agreed upon action by associations on violation. Without such delegated responsibility and monitoring people will not adhere to the guidelines.

2- Campaigns aimed at different influencers – Phase I campaigns were general public campaigns aimed at the whole population. Phase II campaigns need more innovation. Children are a big influencer in their homes. Campaigns aimed at children making their parents wear masks. These can be different skits with some humour yet serious messaging to make elder family families feel embarrassed at not wearing masks.

3-Reminders of the lessons – Human memory is short. When in trouble the mind and heart feeling the pain become remorseful and promise many changes once the trouble is over. But human beings are forgetful too. When one is sick one commits to eat less sugar, walk every day and sleep early. Those commitments with a healthy body fade away after a few weeks. During the pandemic people rued their neglect of environment, health, wasteful spending, time mismanagement. They resolved to continue in the more simplistic and family oriented life style COVID-19 had imposed on us. As we get back to a more free and active life style we see the same shopping binge and habits creeping back. The civil society and educators need to take this responsibility of reminding the world to get back to the values of simplicity, social responsibility, etc., to make the society a more peaceful and sustainable place.

There are some very key lessons COVID-19 has taught to the world. Firstly, no matter which world you live i.e first world or third world, anything anywhere affects everyone everywhere. COVID-19 started with one man in one country and spread all over the world. Even if countries manage their virus containment well they are not safe till every country is safe. That is why collective thinking, collaboration, cooperation is the need for all countries. That unfortunately is still missing. Secondly, treating COVID-19 as a bad phase and going back to the same old ways is not going to work. Same old world will mean even bigger disasters. Finally, individuals and countries need to discover that the purpose and meaning of living has to be bigger than themselves. That is the real learning of this virus. Until human beings do not go beyond their own self-interests the imbalances in status, health, environment etc., will keep on tipping the balance of nature to create hazards beyond human endurance.

ANDLEEB ABBAS, "Purposefully but carefully," Business Recorder. 2020-08-17.
Keywords: Political science , Ehsaas program , Social media , Electronic media , Iran , Australia , COVID , SOP

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