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Responses to Coronavirus Pandemic in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, 20 March 2020 : Experts at a virtual roundtable called upon the government to extract funds from different institutions like Workers Welfare Fund, PSDP, Baitul Maal, etc. to save the lives of people from Coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The virtual roundtable titled “Responses to Coronavirus Pandemic in Pakistan” was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here at Islamabad. Experts on economy, communication and social development presented their policy input in the wake of Coronavirus outbreak in the country to the Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Dr Fehmida Mirza who also participated in the discussion.
Speaking on the occasion, SDPI Executive Director, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri identified three major issues that how we can make IPC and Council of Common Interest more effective, how can we make our health distribution system impactful and how can we make our social safety nets (except Ehsaas or BISP) useful to save the lives of people in the days to come.

He said liquidity injection is needed for two groups; those which fall in poverty band and those small firms which have to pay their bills and salaries.
He stressed the need to review how much prepared and ready is our health sector. Do we have sufficient ventilators and technical skills required to operate these ventilators even if we order for purchase from international market?

Economic Expert, Dr Naveed Iftikhar said containment should be the top priority and we need to develop suggestions in phases. He said recovery phase is important which is social and economic. He said more important is that how we can protect our daily wagers, street vendors and the poor unemployed labour.
SDPI Joint Executive Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed stressed the need to learn lessons from Wuhan like complete lockdown of the city and these lessons should be applied in the worst scenario. He said we are not sure about the number of Corona victims, however, it will increase in future and in current situation our first line of defense should be local philanthropy.
Director, National Incubation Centre, Karachi, Shahjahan Chaudhry said international projects are being unfolded due to Coronavirus, and payments are slow which would ultimately affect salaried class and bills. After 3 to 6 months, small businesses would have been more impacted, he said.
Concluding the session, Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza stressed the need for cooperative federalism. She said the country is already under socio-economic stress like poverty, unemployment, unhygienic conditions, drinking water shortages, so ultimately the people will be the sufferers. She said cooperative federalism is necessary at this moment, but unfortunately local governments are missing and we lack effective ways to access the poor and vulnerable communities. She said she would present the findings and policy recommendations of today’s virtual roundtable in the Cabinet meeting.

Following policy recommendations were given by the experts

  • National Disaster Management Authority, Inter Provincial Coordination Ministry, and Federal Health Ministry must jointly coordinate with all provinces and prepare a combined strategy.
  • Volunteers, and young doctors should be called back and trained to look after victims in remote areas. Local NGOs should be reached out, as they are skilled in outreach and awareness campaigns.
  • Disaster management institutions are not that much active. NDMA and PDMA websites don’t have any related material. NDMA should play a pro active role, as it has lot of funds.
  • There is a dire need to call an urgent meeting of Council of Common Interest; it will send good signals.
  • There is a need to prepare a list of required household items and medicines in case Corona spread out to whole of the country. For this purpose, philanthropy groups and organizations should be taken on board. 
  • He said in case of death, virus is not dead and China has developed some SOPs to bury the dead bodies which of course Muslims cannot follow. So, we need to work as how we can do it in Pakistan.
  • Circular flow diagram of supply and demand need to be reviewed. Fiscal policy without monetary policy and vice versa will not be effective in this situation. In case we do not think over liquidity injection, SMEs and small sectors will bankrupt.
  • Economy and corona cannot be managed at a time, so we shall have to save people first and economy comes later.
  • Food ration distribution can be done with volunteers and other private partners, so the federal govt needs to take lead in this regard. 
  • Leadership should play its role by bring all political parties at one platform setting aside their political and ideological differences. It’s time to go beyond party affiliations and only a visionary leadership like Nelson Mandela can save the country and nation from this pandemic.
  • King Edward medical college has activated its helplines and people can reach out to the doctors online. Medical colleges should follow the same pattern.
  • Emergency relief cell at planning division should be activated, and civil defence should be taken on board.
  • Along with big cities, the government needs to focus in remote areas where there are no health facilities and people are unaware of their health. BHUs should be made operational there and young doctors in their final years of medical studies should be sent there after training.
  • Remote areas of Sindh and Balochistan have less information about the seriousness of Coronavirus, so local NGOs, local leadership and business community should be contacted to create awareness.
  • Public service messages on media, including radio, television, and social media about different myths should be disseminated more effectively.
  • Awareness within the government circles is needed where there is no uniformity of ideas.
  • Clergy should be taken on board, as the role of mosques is paramount in creating awareness especially in remote areas. 
  • There is a need to train people in social distancing and self-isolation. We should learn from Japan and focus on social distancing and isolation measures.
  • Social distancing and self-solation is very important if we want to avoid complete lockdown, which is worst case scenario.