ISLAMABAD:: Pakistan still has a narrow window of opportunity to quickly learn from the experiences as well as errors of other countries in order to evolve innovative and comprehensive policy options for the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic is also an opportunity for the nation to become self-reliant in pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering and public health management on war footings. This is not the time for a popularity contest and so some tough decisions, which could be politically costly, have to be taken to save lives and the economy, according to experts addressing the second session of a webinar series, ‘Covid-19: Global Challenge, National Response,’ organized by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).
Senior policy analyst Syed Muhammad Ali was the main speaker who covered different aspects of the pandemic challenges and presented viable policy recommendations. The event was jointly chaired by Dr Waqar Masood Khan, former federal finance secretary and member of IPS Academic Council, and Khalid Rahman, Executive President IPS.
Ali said the extent of the pandemic, whether economic, political, cultural, social or health, varies for different countries and their political systems are tackling this challenge in different ways. But the longer critical decisions are delayed the more a country’s resources come under stress and it faces economic, political and social problems.
He was of the view that various tactics need to be deployed in the war against Covid-19 including close international economic collaboration, use of medical technology and international diplomacy.
Regarding strategic measures that the government should initiate, Ali said these can include a national strategic medical supplies stockpile or database, national and international collaboration in biomedical research, three levels of compulsory 14-day quarantine at international, inter-provincial and local levels, online crisis management training courses for quarantine center staff, initiation of a national crisis information management system, and monopoly of National Disaster Management Authority on all related information.
He said in these trying times it is critical that Pakistan should lobby with other developing nations to ask the international financial institutions for a review of their financial arrangements and assistance programs based on humanitarian concerns.
Ali said the government has submitted a report with the Supreme Court that it expects 50,000 positive cases of coronavirus by April 25. So if the situation worsens then the government should declare the food, healthcare, petroleum and banking sectors as critical and manage them directly, he added.
He stressed that ration distribution should be very effective in the areas that had been hit by insurgency in the past so that the anti-state elements are not able to exploit the crisis. Similarly, charity work and fund raising has to be legal, transparent and recorded to avoid serious consequences for Pakistan at Financial Action Task Force.
Ali said most of the strategic public sector organizations have more technical capacity than the private sector. As such the government has to decide which sectors can be used for crisis management. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry could review which goods can be produced locally by tailoring the production lines.
He was of the opinion that the large chain stores should create an app-based delivery system and collect payment through card swipe machines. The system could be extended to meat, poultry, milk, bakery and medical deliveries.
Ali said the pandemic is the greatest threat to human lives since the Second World War and as such it is important to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The situation should be declared a global human security challenge and a coordinated and all-encompassing initiative launched for international collaboration in all dimensions.
Speaking about the strategies adopted by countries with low infection rates, he said none of the Central Asian Republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – along with Azerbaijan have reported more than 1,000 cases but the approach they have adopted is an example for the rest of the world. The lesson we can learn from their experience is that dealing with loss is not the actual problem, it is better implementation of precautionary measures that counts.
Khalid Rahman was of the view that the mosque as an institution could play a very positive and vital role in crisis management in the current situation. At present this institution is in a state of disquiet but can attain a central position in the coronavirus fight if handled intelligently and by getting it on board.
He suggested making the beginning of Ramazan the terminal point ahead of which there could be consultations and efforts to get people on the same page regarding this issue.
Dr Waqar said a comprehensive policy should have been formulated through consultations between the federation, provinces and armed forces to counter the pandemic and the ensuing crisis. The federal government initiated a lockdown quite late on March 25 and that too in a halfhearted manner; even now it is trying to pass the buck where responsibility is concerned, he added.
He termed it a timely move by the government to seek from the country’s international lenders a rescheduling of the huge external public debt-related repayments till the crisis ends.
He said a positive outcome of the crisis was that it had provided the country a chance to become self-reliant and overcome shortcomings. Now was the time to grab new opportunities in various sectors, one of which is technology as this is the field of the future, he concluded.