world / pakistan

COVID-19: Pakistan losing time to ‘act decisively’

Think-tank casts doubts over effectiveness of government response

A family travels on a motorcycle wearing face masks during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown.
Image Credit: AP

Washington: As COVID-19 positive cases continue to surge across Pakistan infecting nearly 1,400 people and killing 11 so far, a Washington-based think tank has said that Prime Minister Imran Khan is losing precious time to act decisively to fight the pandemic in his country.

Madiha Afzal, a researcher at Brookings Institute has said, “Khan’s handing of the COVID-19 crisis reveals the limits of his populism, the precariousness of his position, and his lack of experience in dealing with a crisis.”

“While many Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, have cancelled communal prayers, Pakistan’s mosques remain open. The country’s health system -- with dated and limited public health facilities, and costly private hospitals inaccessible to all but the rich -- is woefully unprepared to deal with COVID-19 and its influx of critically ill patients. Doctors lack personal protective equipment; at least one of the nine victims so far is a doctor,” the researcher said.

“The consequences of letting the disease spread further would be devastating. And Pakistan’s initial coronavirus response is already exposing concerning political patterns -- including the powerful army asserting competence over the civilian government-- that will persist beyond the pandemic,” she asserted.

“Internal government projections are dire,” Afzal noted while further questioning that should a federally mandated lockdown work amid such circumstances.

Pakistan’s army and police can be effective enforcers in Sindh, which has the strictest measures in place. Around 300 people have been arrested for violating the lockdown. But the military establishment may not be able to reach remote parts of the country, and will likely be ineffective, the report said.

“Pakistan’s prime minister is losing a precious time to act decisively, and his dawdling is confusing the citizens,” it added.

In recognition of this fact, perhaps, the government’s press conference on March 26 did not feature Khan, but was led by Asad Umar, his planning minister.

“What Pakistan needs now is for Khan to back a lockdown wholeheartedly, including shutting down mosques, rather than hope for a miracle. The alternative is a disaster no country, least of all Pakistan, can afford,” the researcher added.