The Punjab government has done the right thing by announcing clearly defined SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for cattle markets ahead of Eid. If experience has taught us anything, it is that there is some truth in the assertion that Pakistani people just cannot be trusted with their own safety as far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned. And it was precisely because of how people mixed so freely ahead of the first Eid of the year that the virus has spread so rapidly across the country. Before that time, Pakistan was among the countries with the lowest spread of Covid-19 in the whole world. Now, just last week or so, we replaced Mexico for the world’s 13th position in terms of worst numbers. And that too when our testing capability is pretty restricted despite all the efforts of the government. Who knows just where we might end up should our testing web somehow expands.
Some of the measures announced by the Punjab government include setting up cattle markets two to five kilometers outside city limits, markets should have large parking spaces with separate entry and exit points, and they should also have medical camps with proper ventilation. A maximum of two people per car will be allowed, with both elderly and children have been ordered to stay well away. Perhaps, considering previous instances, they should also consider keeping small official contingents in place just in case some people choose to ignore all the rules and warnings, as they have done so often these past few months, and put everybody else in danger as well.
Ideally there should have been a coherent national policy for all such things, not just about what to do and where to park the car during Eid outings. There is of course also the matter that people will not just go out for getting sacrificial animals but also for the traditional festive outings and shopping. And since this is where the problem appeared last time as well, it would help if the government also spells out its strategy about controlling crowds. So far all that has come out of the federal government is that people should wear masks and wash their hands. But such statements never did the job in the past, which is why they are unlikely to work now as well. The government is advised to come up with a detailed action plan and share it with the people immediately. It is better to work with the opposition now, even if there isn’t much love between the two sides of the aisle, than try and save face before an angry public later.
The global outlook
IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) latest world economic outlook publication makes for some grim reading, and understandably so. All talk of a V-shaped recovery is now beginning to subside as international financial markets, just like most governments that were so far in denial, are coming to terms with the severity and depth of the recession that has now firmly gripped the whole world. Everybody is also realising how flimsy all comparisons to previous downturns are, which is why not many analysts are talking about the Great Depression last century or even the Great Recession last decade anymore.
The reason is that previous recessions or depressions stemmed from systemic crises and failures, which means things went wrong within the international financial system. The problems were bad, but they could be quantified, and all that remained was figuring out just how much money to throw at affected sectors to get the world back on its feet. Now, the situation is very different. Now the economies have tanked because of something that came from outside the system. And economies will simply not rebound till some vaccine is developed to cure the coronavirus so all eyes, even those that want the global economy to pick up again, will be on the most advanced laboratories of this world as scientists indulge in a battle against time to find some sort of relief for the whole world.
It is perhaps even more depressing that while no notable international financial organisation has yet been able to say anything about the chances of a global recovery with authority, they are pretty sure about what might happen to employment and poverty trends if things do not start to get better rather soon. And since we are told that the soonest a cure can be developed is one to two years, all the while global growth will be diminishing and poverty will obviously rise, there’s really no telling just what sort of shape the world will be in when things do turn around. All this does not bring much comfort to small, indebted countries like Pakistan. That is why we must be all the more careful in safeguarding our reserves and resources at this point, while we are still able to maneuver enough to save jobs and businesses. It would help a great deal if richer countries put any thought about debt repayment from poor countries out of their minds for a while, as the Fund has also advised, since it would free up enough fiscal space to wait out this pandemic.