Daily Times Editorials | July 10, 2020

The matter of reopening schools

While there is no denying the government’s good intentions about reopening educational institutes in September, perhaps the decisions is being rushed just a little considering that the graph of new cases over time isn’t exactly flattening at the moment and there’s no telling really what might happen in the couple of months between then and now. That is so especially since Eidul Azha will be celebrated in July and Ashura will be observed in August, and failure to exercise the most stringent social distancing protocols on and in the buildup to both occasions could well lead to yet another spike in the number of new cases as well as deaths.

It is also pretty understandable why a lot of people and institutions would want to reopen as quickly as possible. The government is concerned that students have already lost a lot of time and since a large majority of them lack access to proper internet facilities, their education is being compromised beyond measure. Schools on the other hand, private ones especially, are also in a bit of a hurry because things like lockdowns, etc, cut down viciously on their usual abnormal profits. Already a number of them have had to let a number of teachers go because keeping them on the payroll, again, is cutting into the money they make at the end of the month. And while opinion among parents is, quite understandably, pretty divided on the issue a big number of them cannot wait for schools to open as well. The ones that cannot work from home and have to go out, especially, are simply not in a position to attend to their children’s online classes and be able to put food on the table at the same time.

Still, isn’t it expecting too much for schools children, particularly those still of tender age, to exercise the most serious safety rules at all times? And wouldn’t it be a shame if it does turn out, in the worst case scenario, that reopening before getting a handle on the spread was a bad idea? That way not only would everything have to be shut down all over again, but there would also be a large number of sick students to deal with. Surely it would be better to have a tentative date, to reopen, in mind and check progress for the good part of it without building any unnecessary expectations. Everybody’s rush is understandable, but then so is the fact that these are unprecedented times, and in the final analysis it is not too much of a loss if students have to wait a little longer before going to school if that means more lives can be protected and saved.


Rationalising prices of medicines

Full marks to the prime minister for finally putting his foot down and taking away the power to set prices of medicines from pharmaceutical companies. According to news reports, the PM prevailed despite a fair bit of opposition from within the cabinet, which will no doubt feel like a breath of fresh air to people struggling to afford medicines that are getting expensive all the time. It turns out that Special Advisor on Commerce Razzaq Dawood and Special Advisor on Health Dr Zafar Mirza did not want the government to fiddle with the system at all, because taking away pharma companies’ power to set prices would somehow leave them at the mercy of the bureaucracy. And while it is appreciated that the PM’s closest advisors were so concerned about companies that make abnormal profits all year long, it is nothing short of incredible that at the same time they did not think at all about ordinary people left to the whims of market forces in a situation where suppliers set the price.

If any proof is still needed about the merciless profit making that the pharma sector is addicted to one needs to only look back at what has happened since the coronavirus and shutdown sparked demand for some medicines. Even some senior government representatives were forced to admit that the behaviour of pharma companies in such circumstances is nothing short of cannibalistic. Some medicines and injections that were previously available for a few thousand rupees were being sold for many hundred thousand, just because of the increased demand even though there wasn’t any out-of-the-ordinary pressure on supply. It is learnt that Prime Minister Imran Khan had been upset about these trends for the past few months and suddenly decided to do something about it, which must be appreciated. But since this episode shows that the head of state can set such things right rather quickly perhaps next time such welcome news will not take so long in coming.

It is ordinarily believed that the cabinet works, especially in democracies, for the general welfare of the people. Why, then, were senior members of that very body going out of their way to influence the prime minister against providing desperately needed relief for the people? Maybe it is because a lot of people in the federal cabinet, especially said advisors, were not elected and are used to finding themselves taking important decisions for one government after another for reasons well known to everybody. Someone should, at the very least, look into some of these things.

Published in Daily Times, July 10, 2020

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