After the government eased on the lockdown, new and much-relieved set of instructions for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 were issued, Pakistanis were immediately back on roads and in malls. The traffic on roads and hustle and bustle in shopping malls made it look like that novel coronavirus was merely fiction. So has the pandemic ended?
According to an article published by the New York Times, historically, there are two ways in which pandemics end: medically and socially. Author Gina Kolata interviewed a number of historians and those who have studied the history of medicine and postulated that pandemics end medically when "incidence and death rate" goes down or you discover a vaccine. For instance, smallpox was eradicated after the discovery of its vaccine. However, most pandemics, for instance, plague, end socially i.e. when the fear of disease goes away and people learn to live with it. Many pandemics of the past have ended socially when people outgrew the fear and went about their lives. Socio-economic aspects will take precedence over medical aspects when deciding if and when the current pandemic COVID-19 will end, she concluded.
Kolata's brilliant argument does make a lot of sense, especially when seen in the Pakistani context. Pakistan was never ready to deal with the coronavirus medically. Our only option was to do what little we could do to prevent the spread of infection and stay hopeful that one of the developed countries would invent a vaccine soon. Meanwhile, a strategy of lockdown was used to keep the curve flattened so that our health system doesn't collapse completely.
When the lockdown was imposed in late March, people did stay at home for the first few days. Traffic on the road was minimal, malls and shopping centers were closed, and people stayed at home. But soon they got tired of it, With almost 25 percent of the population living under the poverty line and surviving on daily wages, how long can you force them to stay at home and wait for someone to deliver aid?
Prime Minister Imran Khan had realized that. In a Twitter message on March 22, he wrote:
"A complete lockdown means imposing a curfew administered by state & army, forcing people to stay indoors.
Our country's 25% population lives below the poverty line & survives on daily wages. We are taking steps, keeping our on-ground status in mind."
A complete lockdown means imposing a curfew administered by state & army, forcing people to stay indoors.
Our country's 25% population lives below the poverty line & survives on daily wages.We are taking steps, keeping our on-ground status in mind. pic.twitter.com/YXK4tnvqeD
— Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan (@PakPMO) March 22, 2020
With steps to place restrictions on public places and public gatherings, Imran Khan requested the nation to be responsible, for the sake of the elderly and everyone. However, a lockdown was imposed in late March though it was never practiced in its true spirit by the citizens.
Soon after the lockdown was imposed, it's repercussions were evident. Small business owners, shopkeepers, stall owners wanted to restart their businesses, schools and big organizations started to lay off their staff to deal with economic losses and economy which was already slow, slowed down further. The fear of hunger took over the fear of catching infectious diseases and the government had to take, what can only be described as a difficult decision, to open construction and few other businesses.
Pandemic in Pakistan had ended in Pakistan - at least socially - the day government decided to open construction and other businesses to save daily wage earners from starvation. That was the day when the poor decided that they can live with a disease but can't stay hungry. As the lockdown has further eased, the rest of the nation has taken the same decision. Hundreds of people out and about to do Eid shopping and run other errands is proof that Pakistan has outgrown the pandemic. The low mortality rate in Pakistan as compared to the west may have sped this process.
But has the pandemic ended in its entirety? Definitely not, the virus still exists and the vaccine doesn't. People can still get infected if they aren't careful. However, it's fear has gone.
Taking precautions is the best but for countries like Pakistan, precautions don't mean staying in, that's a privilege masses in this country can't afford. What we can do is make sure that public use maks while going out, hand washing should be facilitated on every corner and the use of hand sanitizers should be normalized. Coronavirus is going to stay with us for a while as the World Health Organization (WHO) officials said. We'll have to learn to live with it, the sooner, the better.