The Failure Of Govt’s “Smart-Lockdown” Strategy

The most famous statement ever attributed to Abraham Lincoln is, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.

By Mirza Abdul Aleem Baig

Undoubtedly, the CoVID-19 has affected the whole world, but the situation is comparatively worse in the countries having weak healthcare infrastructure and policies along-with infectious diseases control strategies. Factually, strategies and actions to cope with infectious disease outbreaks change over time. For this objective, standard operating procedures (SOPs) paly a crucial role to hamper the virus transmissions.

3rd CoVID-19 wave of the pandemic have erupted, the ground was all set for such a situation and is spreading rapidly in Pakistan. Besides official data made available by the government, multiple unreported cases of community transmission are emerging, and third wave of the virus has already taken a spike in big cities. Reportedly, Pakistan has had a lower rate of severe infection from CoVID-19 due to low testing ration, the actual number of cases are likely far higher than the recorded data. Like other countries, government implemented border closures, international travel restrictions, banning public events, quarantines etc. Despite this, the fragile government structure of the country hampers efforts to impose measures to stop the spread of the virus. Additionally, impaired governance and weak economy are resulting in poor implementation that is further exacerbated by political blame game.

In the international system of nation states, government is responsible to protect their citizens. The recent third wave, has seen a sharp spike in cases, with the positive rate recorded at approximately 23-percent in Swat, 22-percent in Peshawar, 19-percent in Nowshera, 17-percent in Lahore and 15-percent in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad and 16-percent Islamabad. According to official data, countrywide cases rise 68-percent from the preceding 10 days. Despite high levels of political commitment by the government, the ongoing CoVID-19 epidemic has exposed important obstacles and flaws in the health system of Pakistan that regard to the control of infectious diseases. Pakistan, being a resource-limited country with a lack of existing emergency preparedness mechanisms, needs to reinforce national public health infrastructures, capabilities, disease surveillance systems and government laboratory networks. If the pandemic is not addressed adequately by internal mechanisms in Pakistan, this will have an unpredictable and destabilizing impact not only in the region but also world over. Moreover, if Pakistan fail to control the pandemic and cannot handle its effects, this can result in mass internal displacement, pressures for migration, or brain-drain.

Last year, mixed and confused gesturing by Prime Minister – “Ghabraana Nahi Hai”, “There is no reason to worry, since 90-percent of the infected would have mild flu-type symptoms and 97-percent would recover fully,” – and his top advisers, early in the crisis, lifted a countrywide lockdown in May, lead to a spike in CoVID-19 cases. Similarly, the mid-April decision to ease lockdown left the public confused about its gravity. Now again, Prime Minister is losing precious time to act decisively, adopting so-called “Smart-Lockdown” strategy, that will not be adequately enough, resulting people are now ignoring government calls to observe social distancing and other health guideline (SOPs). A rethink is urgently needed, Prime Minister should revise “Smart-Lockdown” strategy. Much decision-making linked to the pandemic control has taken place in Islamabad. It should be deemed critical and need of time, based on medical advice and national health emergency, provinces should be allowed to shutdown entire cities, rural districts and hotspots to interrupt virus transmission. The government should take five immediate steps. Firstly, nationwide shutdown to minimize unnecessary social interaction. Secondly, enhance testing and relevant capacity on a priority basis and on war footings. Thirdly, ensure smooth and steady flows of supply chains of food, logistics, and medicines. Fourthly, expansion of social protection program and vaccination. The fifth, reinforce international mechanisms for leading, coordinating, and providing resources in the emergency situation.

In a nutshell, the CoVID-19 has been a trauma and third wave is a test case for the government of Pakistan. 3rd wave is hitting hard and it seems that it will paralyze the whole country. On the other hand, it is offering a unique opportunity for government and stakeholders to chart a new path to rebuilt the nation. It is important to learn from past mistakes and take action to improve preparedness planning for all infectious disease outbreaks in the future. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest test-positivity rates must remain below five percent for two consecutive weeks before government loosen restrictions. Hence, strict countrywide shutdown is vital to managing the spread of the virus, at least, I urge the concerned authorities in Pakistan to immediately impose 45-days complete shutdown in 15 and above-percent test-positive rate, 30-days complete shutdown in 10-15-percent test-positive rate and 15-days complete shutdown in below 10-percent test-positive rate cities/hotspots to stem the catastrophe of the lethal virus currently passing through its third wave. The Prime Minister should re-evaluate “Smart-Lockdown” strategy to deal with pandemic. Any strategy based on the false assumption will lead to a disastrous situation.

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