Corona-related economic meltdown looms large
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Coronavirus – Covid-19 – continues to wreak havoc on humanity all over the planet without any let-up. Strangely enough, the myth and reality about the virus get mysteriously mixed up in our part of the world. Due to shortage of testing kits and lack of awareness, we have not been smart enough to collect the exact data. The statistics leaked to the print and electronic media are looked upon with skepticism. Official circles pretend to be withholding the ‘whole truth’ so that the general public does not go berserk in panic.
Sounding like virtual prophets of doom, WHO and other international organisations say that major disasters await countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan because their state of preparedness is next to zero. Similarly, World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said that stay-at-home orders have closed businesses all over the planet. It said that due to corona virus everything had come to a grinding halt. The financial situation, therefore, is going to be worse than even the Great Recession (2007 to 2009). WTO issued the grim warning that very soon the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 170 countries (out of a total of 200) would go in the negative (below zero).
When seen globally, the damage to job market is mind-blowing. Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs since mid-March. Announcing a relief package worth $2.3 trillion, Jerome Powell, chairman of US Federal Reserve, admitted to the fact that US economy was moving with alarming speed towards very high unemployment. According to a modest estimate by the UN labour organisation, global unemployment will rise by 25 million over the remaining months of 2020. Meanwhile, global death toll from the virus has already surged past 103,000. With its 20,000 recorded deaths and half a million infections, the US has surpassed Italy.
Physicians treating corona patients are fighting a multi-pronged battle. They have to bear the brunt of the virus onslaught and also face a plethora of myths found in society about corona virus. This compounds the situation immensely. For example, 43 per cent (almost half) of the total population still believe that they can protect themselves against corona virus with the use of onion, garlic, black seeds (kalonji) and white seeds (til). 50 per cent of the people think that defence mechanism of their bodies is somehow stronger than that of other nations. Therefore, corona virus poses no immediate threat to them.
China is extending every kind of help to Pakistan. Apart from providing necessary material, it also sent last week a nine-member team of medical experts. By the time this piece appears in print, the team will have flown back home. However, before leaving it met decision-makers of the host country in health sector. It not only shared with them its knowledge of how China battled the virus but also gauged the level of their state of preparedness with regard to meeting the corona challenge. One should not ignore the fact that China had before it a clear-headed policy. In order to implement the policy from top to bottom, it also had behind it the world’s most authoritative and strong-armed state-structure which remained ever-ready for any ‘do or die’ situation. Other countries, including Pakistan, can probably just wish for such an ideal system.
PM Imran Khan has all along been against a total lockdown so that daily wagers should not die of hunger and starvation. However, police and army personnel on duty make it sure that people stay away from parks and places of worship. As lockdowns tightened the world over the Christians, for the first time in recent history, celebrated the Easter without insisting on traditional ceremonies. From Alaska to Auckland, followers of all religions, faiths and creeds were directed by respective community elders to obey the stay-at-home orders and observe social distancing.
In Islamabad, the Friday prayers in Presidency were led by Maulana Noorul Haq Qadri, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs. While offering the prayers, President Dr Arif Alvi and two other dignitaries kept a distance of six feet from one another. Unhappy with restrictions on congregational prayers, Chairman of the Ruet Hilal Committee, Mufti Muneebur Rahman, said in a video message: “If the government wants to seal the institution of mosque, it should be prepared for the consequences”. This was a stark reminder of the possible backlash.
The backlash, however, occurred neither in Mufti Muneebur Rahman’s native Mansehra, nor in the Ruet body’s Islamabad office but rather in the distant Sindh metropolis. It came outside the Haqqani Mosque, Orangi Town, Frontier Colony-3 located in the jurisdiction of Karachi’s Pirabad police station. Ignoring the government restrictions, a large number of people converged on the mosque to offer Friday prayers. On receiving reports of lockdown violations, a police party under the supervision of woman SHO Sharafat Khan rushed to the place.
At the sight of a police van parked outside the mosque entrance, the worshippers got infuriated and pelted the police officers with stones. SHO’s spectacles fell off and a piece of rock left her with a fractured bone of the nose. Commenting on the incident, journalist-turned-anchor Hamid Mir offered some background to the development. Participating as a guest speaker on Hum News television channel’s show “Breaking views with Mohammad Malick”, Hamid Mir said that SHO and worshippers were mostly Pashto-speaking people with an unmistakable KP connection.
Mohammad Malick (former DG PTV) said that he tried to take the woman SHO on the show so that she should narrate her side of the story. However, considering the implications of such a move, the concerned DIG in Karachi warned that, being full of anger, the SHO’s outburst might further create problems. He expressed the fear that instead of cooling down the sentiments, putting the firebrand SHO on live television would amount to adding fuel to the fire. He said that such an interview might endanger the life of an otherwise conscientious woman officer. Meanwhile, Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah said that he was doing everything to stop the virus from spreading. In this regard, his government had already sealed District East of Karachi. From April 11 onwards, District South would also stand sealed. Maximum cases were reported from these two districts.