A volunteer disinfects the Karachi Press Club building in an effort to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus, in Pakistan on April 13, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Suddenly, 2020 seems to be in a hurry to wrap up its business of turning the world upside down, pondering at the possibilities of doing something other than putting up a daily global notification of the insignificance of human life. 2020 and its biggest ally, the audacious, merciless, borderless coronavirus. Why do I feel this way this very humid, starkly dull July mid-morning, I don’t know. Perhaps my little-slept mind is in its wily old denial mode of looking at the world without wishing to curl up in a foetus shaped comma.

I want the world to be different, safer, happier, mouths uncovered by masks when they curl up in smiles, people holding hands, hugs as free as the tinkling laughter of a six-year-old teasing my 20-year-old son. Sprinkled amidst light and love, there is pain, but there is also the assurance of that inevitability: nothing lasts forever. I sigh, silently peaceful.

See more

Today there is something that makes me smile, albeit hesitantly. I do not wish to jinx it. In the last few days, I have been reading about Pakistan getting to a stage where it can sit down for a much-needed respite, taking a cautious glance at the statistics of the cases of COVID-19, and allowing itself to smile. A guarded smile, but smile it is. Mask-less in solitude, six feet or more away when in the company of other humans, it is okay to smile, even laugh. Murmuring a dua, the world of Pakistan seems a bit different, safer, happier on July 27, 2020. Pakistan’s coronavirus cases are on decline. That is so huge it almost defies any logic of the trajectory of 2020 in its unabashed indifference to known rules and regulations of human mortality.

In the words of M Bilal Lakhani, a Pakistani journalist, and someone whom I like for his constancy about showing the positive side of Pakistan while highlighting its darker aspects, the end-July scenario is “Pakistan’s stunning flattening of COVID-19 curve.” The word “stunning” sums it up in its twin simplicity: it is very surprising, and it is very impressive. I can’t write any of this without adding mashAllah. And without saying alhamdullilah out loud. Even if it is, God forbid, a temporary halt in the spread of the deadly coronavirus, my gratitude, like that of millions of Pakistanis, to Allah is immense.

Allah shows His mercy in countless ways. Some are visible, some remain un-understood.

Also exist positive signs–verifiable, medically attested, government verified–that are not to be overlooked, not to be underestimated, irrespective of personal biases, political pettiness, cynical pessimism, jaded apathy to the power of science, humanity and nature huddling together to put up a united front against an enigmatic foe. The facts speak for themselves. And having written many times about Pakistan and the world redefining their rules of existence and survival, I cannot but be happy at the newest turn in the anfractuous story of a global pandemic that in many parts of the world still does not seem to be taking a hiatus. While wishing for safety of life of every person suffering from COVID-19, and praying for the wellbeing of every country, I feel a sense of relief today that things, touch wood, are getting better in Pakistan.

The government of Pakistan, occasionally floundering, remained steadfast in one aspect: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s absolute concern for the millions of Pakistanis who live in day-to-day misery, those who exist under the official poverty line. The initial hesitance of Prime Minister Khan to imposition of a complete national lockdown was based on his consistent concern for the poor of Pakistan whose daily or monthly incomes would immediately halt, causing devastation in their lives that to them was and is worse than that of coronavirus. After the partial lifting of the complete lockdown, Prime Minister Khan advised smart lockdowns in hotspots of coronavirus. All over Pakistan smart lockdowns were imposed.

Worst over?

Quoting State Minister of Health Dr Zafar Mirza, from Lakhani’s Express Tribune article, “First of all, it’s a fact that Pakistan crossed its COVID-19 peak in the middle of June. Even by our own estimates, we were expecting the peak to hit us in July or mid-August and there are a number of factors that are driving this early decline.” Two of those factors are “change in human behaviour [Pakistanis understanding the risk of COVID-19 and taking precautions seriously] and early, effective interventions by the government [for example, 2,300 smart lockdowns impacting 47 million Pakistanis].”

Lakhani writes, “Dr Mirza detailed the more than fifty evidence-based policy decisions rooted in data that helped Pakistan flatten the curve ahead of expectations.” To Lakhani’s “how did you stay grounded in data when there was mass hysteria in the press and political pressure from the opposition to change course?” Dr Mirza’s response is an uncomfortable manifestation of the odds of perception and behaviour the government has had to and still continues to fight in addition to the horror of coronavirus: “We quickly identified the source of this hysteria… that came from the upper, middle class of Pakistan, which had the resources to watch Netflix and not worry about their incomes. They wanted to protect themselves by imposing mass lockdowns and ignoring what would happen to everyone else. The lower classes are voiceless and not part of the public discourse.”

Not in the Pakistan of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The poor, the underprivileged, the daily wage earner, the millions with an almost a non-existent income, have always been Khan’s top priority in Pakistan’s fight against coronavirus. The voiceless, the faceless Pakistanis may not be part of the public discourse, but they are on top of every agenda of Imran Khan’s work–before and during the time of coronavirus.

Dr Mirza says, “Prime Minister Imran Khan had an unshaken resolve to look after the poor people of Pakistan in this catastrophe. No comprise on poor people, he would continue to reiterate in all our policymaking conversations.”

Without allowing any assumption about the danger of coronavirus becoming a thing of June, Dr Mirza is categorically clear about premature celebration, taking the reality into account: “With Eid and Muharram coming, this is no time for complacency.”

In Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s fight against coronavirus, in addition to people’s slow and steady resolve to take the terror of COVID-19 seriously, the constant contribution of many people is invaluable. It will continue to be.

In Pakistan, countless doctors, nurses, para-medical personnel, and other hospital staff, from superintendents to janitorial staff, work without a pause, to ensure the availability of best possible facilities to patients of COVID-19. Some of them have succumbed to COVID-19 while taking care of patients. Some of them contracted the disease in other ways. Their service is indescribable, their selflessness is unparalleled, their sacrifices are too many to be eulogised in a caption. Pakistan was, is and will remain indebted to each one of them.

Dr Zafar Mirza is Pakistan government’s frontline person in national efforts for prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The work of Dr Mirza is indispensable in Pakistan’s continuous fight against coronavirus.

The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) is “nerve centre to synergise and articulate unified national effort against COVID-19, and to implement the decisions of National Coordination Committee on COVID-19.” Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs NCOC. Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umar is assigned by the prime minister to head the organisation. The work of NCOC is indispensable in Pakistan’s continuous fight against coronavirus.

All provinces under the supervision and guidance of their chief ministers and their teams, and their health ministers and their teams, are tirelessly working in the time of coronavirus.

In Punjab, it is Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Punjab Minister of Health Dr Yasmin Rashid and their teams. In Sindh, it is Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Minister of Health Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho and their teams. In Balochistan, it is Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan and Minister for Health Rahmat Saleh Baloch and their teams. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and Minister for Finance and Health Taimur Khan Jhagra and their teams. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, it is Minister of Health Dr Najeeb Naqi and his team. In Gilgit-Baltistan, it is former Chief Minister Hafeez-ur-Rehman, Caretaker Chief Minister Mir Afzal Khan, Commander FCNA Major General Ehsan Mehmood, Chief Secretary Khurrum Agha, Health Secretary Raja Rasheed, and Home Secretary Ali Randhawa. Their work is indispensable in Pakistan’s fight against coronavirus.

Pakistan on July 27, 2020, at 12:27pm has 274,289 confirmed cases. The number of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 is 241,026. The number of critical patients is 1,229. That deeply saddens me. That is 1,229 families suffering every minute of their loved one’s hospitalisation. The number of people who didn’t survive is 5,842. That to me is 5,842 families who have lost a loved one, those who cry for their irreplaceable loss every day. May the number do not increase.

Allah’s munificence is unlimited. In terms of human actions, Pakistan has its own on-going saga of coronavirus, and it is not over until a vaccine becomes a reality and is injected in the body of every human of the world. Imagine the scale of that. So until that happens, and as long as there is even one Pakistani who has COVID-19, the daily-changing dynamics of coronavirus remain a reality. Sighing in relief is a reflex, but it is a bit too soon to seek a personal and national pass for a full celebration.

May Pakistan be free of coronavirus soon.

May the entire world be free of coronavirus soon.

Mehr Tarar, Special to Gulf News-1592296810288