By Arif Nizami
05 April 2020
The earliest case of COVID-19 pandemic was reported on November 17, 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then in a relatively short span of over four months it has spread all over the world and no one knows where and when it will stop. Already the global virus cases have surpassed one million with at least 53000 reported deaths.
Although China has for now come out of the scourge of the coronavirus, it is the rest of the world that is bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Surprisingly the US, the leader of the free world, is the worst affected followed by Italy, Spain, the UK France and Germany.
It took 42 days to reach 100 cases in the US. But since then it is multiplying exponentially. By late Thursday, US states were reporting more than 241,000 cases, almost a quarter of confirmed cases in the world. Yesterday, the US reported the worst global single-day death toll, around 1500, bringing the total to over 7,400.
Secondly, there is the hope that the COVID-19 will not survive in hot weather. These are half baked theories with no scientific evidence as yet to support them.
Initially, the US President was in a state of denial about the gravity of the crisis. In his usual blustering style, he boasted that the America will be open by Easter Sunday on April 12.
The belated realisation has now sunk in that the US economy like the rest of the country is virtually shut down. The past two weeks have erased all job gains since president Trump’s election in November 2016. A record 6.45 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits.
According to a report in the New York Times those relatively affluent sections of the society that could not ever conceive of going on dole have been rendered helpless. Being without a job and running out of cash, they have no recourse but to queue up for cash handouts and food rations.
In the UK the story is no different. Total number of those affected by the pandemic is more than 38,000 with numbers increasing by more than 4000 a day. About 3500 Britons have already died as a result of the virus. The situation in Spain, Italy and France is no better.
According to experts, countries like Singapore and South Korea that initiated early testing, lockdown and other preventive and remedial measures are better off today.
It is stating but the obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has inexorably changed the world. Once the storm has passed, only then can the collateral damage be assessed in an objective manner.
But one thing is for sure; the world economy has gone into a nosedive. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) the world economy could shrink up to one percent in 2020 owing to the adverse effects of COVID-19. It could shrink further if restrictions on economic activities are extended without adequate fiscal responses.
The worldwide social fallout of the pandemic is even more far reaching. For far too long the first world had taken its unbridled affluence- often at the expense of the less fortunate sea of humanity in the rest of the world- for granted.
Perhaps those living in the West, leading relatively opulent lifestyles would belatedly realise that they are as vulnerable to the vagaries and wrath of nature as the rest. And that all human beings are born equal.
Despite the vast resources at the disposal of the military industrial complex, those who wield economic power and have a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons at their disposal, are equally at grave risk.
Ironically the less fortunate sections of the society, especially in the US are as exposed to the wrath of God as some of their brethren in the third world. The social safety net is simply not adequate to shield them from such unforeseen disasters.
COVID-19 has been termed as a tragedy of apoplectic proportions or even an Armageddon. President Trump has likened it to a modern-day plague.
Despite the tremendous strides in modern technology there is no quick- fix cure for the coronavirus. According to realistic estimates it would at least take another year to evolve a vaccine as an antidote for the virus.
Perhaps the only pleasant off-shoot of the pandemic has been a cleaner environment free from pollution. Even in a heavily polluted city like Lahore clear blue spring skies are noticeable as a result of transport and industrial activity perceptibly dropping to a trickle.
In some countries democratically elected populist despots have used the endemic crisis to consolidate even more powers in their hands. A glaring example is that of Viktor Orban the authoritarian Hungarian prime minister. Similarly, president Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has amassed emergency powers more than he already had.
Even the British prime minister Boris Johnson, not exactly in the same league, has been accused of amassing emergency powers using coronavirus as the excuse. But the most glaring example is that of the Indian prime minister Narender Modi imposing a national lockdown on a four hours’ notice causing immense hardships to millions of dispossessed Indians.
The Indian media already under siege is being further gagged in the name of coronavirus. Most analysts are skeptical that once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes authoritarian leaders will not give up the draconian powers usurped by them.
In Pakistan as well the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the power structure, but not exactly in the same manner. The equation between the military and the civilian government is perceptibly shifting as a result of the national emergency. But this is more so owing to the PTI being unable to take timely decisions, rather than the military leadership’s desire to amass more powers.
Khan is in a constant state of denial about the antecedents of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of his cohorts reportedly believe that somehow South Asians are not so adversely affected by the virus as the rest of the world. Secondly, there is the hope that the COVID-19 will not survive in hot weather. These are half baked theories with no scientific evidence as yet to support them.
That is why perhaps the prime minister is not in favour of a complete lockdown. Thus, giving mixed signals. The National Coordination Committee (NCC) that is chaired by the prime minister and attended by the COAS (Chief of Army Staff) has been supplanted by the newly formed National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) headed by a lieutenant general to act as the implementation arm of the NCC.
One of the key functions of NCOC is to ensure effective coordination between federal and provincial governments. The body will include representatives of various federal and provincial governmental agencies apart from nominees of the military and intelligence agencies.
DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar has termed the body as a one window operation headed by Minister for Planning Asad Umar. Such a body was necessary to ensure operational co-ordination hitherto lacking.
The prime minister has announced a major incentive package for the construction sector in order to strike a balance between “lockdown and economic activity.” Why only the construction sector and not the rest? It is alleged by the opposition that certain lobbies who got these packages approved will use it to launder their ill-gotten money.
On the other hand, Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah has again warned that coronavirus cases are under-reported owing to lack of testing facilities. Actually, it is spreading at an alarming pace.
Hopefully Khan is right and Murad is proved wrong; the virus goes away with the heat. If not, saving lives will become even more paramount than reviving the construction industry in the coming weeks.
ArifNizami is Editor, Pakistan Today.
Original Headline: Waiting for Allah
Source: The Pakistan Today