The 10 million mark
Now that global coronavirus cases have exceeded the 10 million mark, and approximately half a million people are already dead from this novel infection, there is a need for countries to join together and rethink their approach. So far there has been broad agreement about how to proceed. Initially almost all countries favoured locking down, though some like Pakistan did not want to shut down completely because of the immediate risk to daily wagers and lower income groups. Then, after a few weeks, as economies were tumbling almost all countries saw the logic of opening up, partially at first, so people could at least start working and earning again.
However, understandable as the bit about the reopening was, there’s hardly a place where it has brought really positive results. With the small exception of countries like New Zealand and South Korea, there has been a sharp increase in cases almost everywhere. And now, after passing the ominous 10 million line, no country can deny that whatever precautions they have taken have not really succeeded. So what to do now? It’s not as if there are too many options to choose from. Governments could choose to keep opening up in phases and hope that the 10 million number would frighten people into observing social distancing rules more strictly. But that would still mean that people have to gather in the same places to work, and in most countries most of them would also have to travel on over-crowded public transport vehicles to get there, which means that the chances of the virus spreading remain pretty high.
Or, taking the other route, they could choose to shut down once again to arrest the depth of the spread. That, however, would seriously cripple economies and drive millions of people into poverty, which has its own social implications. Already the world is at the unique position of almost all countries either not growth at all or contracting. Pakistan, which registered a negative growth rate in the outgoing fiscal year, falls in the latter category. Either way, it seems things are going to get worse before they even begin to get any better. And in such circumstances, where the most important thing is for people to stay away from each other unless it is absolutely necessary, it is really up to the people to make sure that this fight is eventually won. Perhaps the time has come for all countries to untie and draw on each other’s experience and resources because unless this disease is defeated everywhere, no place will really be safe.
A matter of optics
How much in control does the PTI government look now that its allies seem to be giving it the cold shoulder? After BNP-Mengal (Balochistan National Party-Mengal) declined the prime minister’s dinner invitation, though it is no longer an ally, PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) leaders have done the same. Even though the party would still support the government in getting the budget approved, its leaders are just too “busy” to attend the dinner at Imran Khan’s residence. Instead, the Chaudharys have invited most big players to their own dinner party, and a good many have accepted, which does not leave the ruling party looking very good. One of the things the PM was supposed to discuss with his allies at the party, along with plans about the future and the budget, was how to get some friends that are not too happy any more back on board. But it seems it might have acted a little late in that regard. Politics is a lot about optics, after all.
Now it will not be fair to blame the press if it airs some people’s skepticism about the government’s ability to hold the coalition together; especially since we are not talking about an isolated incident here. The man on the street really got talking about all this after minister for science and technology, Fawad Chaudhary, opened the can of worms about infighting in PTI. That led to rising of the temperature at the next federal cabinet meeting. Let’s not forget that just days before this episode BNP-M walked out of the government alliance as well. That explained, to an extent, why the PM wasn’t breathing fire like before when he talked endlessly in the national assembly the other day. And now the Chaudharys have hinted that they too should not be taken for granted any longer.
However much PTI denies what is blatantly evident, nobody is willing to believe anymore that it is not in a very tight spot. The ruling party is very impressed by its own handling of the coronavirus pandemic, of course, but literally nobody else seems to share that point of view. And with the virus spreading, the economy paralysed, senior ministers fighting and allies disgruntled, PTI’s razor-thin majority is under more pressure right now than it has been in two years. And it doesn’t help at all that the party has honoured none of its campaign promises either so far. Gross mishandling of the economy, like the record hike in petrol prices, has left people bewildered as well. So far PTI has blamed practically everybody else for all its problems. But perhaps this latest jolt will make it see the light and act with some responsibility.