NEWS that the United Kingdom has become the first country to approve the Covid-19 vaccine has been welcomed by a public that has been battered by the virus. With approximately 60,000 deaths and 1.6m infections, the outbreak in Britain has been the deadliest in Europe. Therefore, the availability of a vaccine as early as next week is indeed something to celebrate. Pakistan, too, believes it can procure a vaccine and roll it out in the first quarter of next year, giving hope that there is light at the end of a long, dreary tunnel.
Read: Who, when and how? A look at UK’s vaccination rollout
The Covid-19 graph in Pakistan has spelled doom in the second wave way beyond what was experienced in the first. The spread of the virus throughout the country is worrying, and the continued laxity of the general public may trigger a situation in which the healthcare system is overwhelmed. With a national positivity rate of over 8pc and the number of critically ill patients growing, an all-out nightmare does not seem too far away.
In this situation, the authorities must strategise and focus resources on a mitigation strategy in the short term. If restrictions such as school closures and the limiting of indoor dining do not lower the infection rate substantially, the federal and provincial governments will have to take the difficult decision of imposing a lockdown. It is shocking that public gatherings, weddings, rallies and other large events are continuing unabated in the country.
While some sections of the public and even political leaders go about life in a ‘normal’ way, healthcare workers are paying a heavy price. In the last few days alone, at least 10 doctors have died across Pakistan while 3,000 front-line workers have gone into isolation — a reality which may worsen if this callous behaviour continues.
The long-term challenge for the government is the Covid-19 inoculation once the vaccine is procured. Undoubtedly, healthcare workers, who have worked at an enormous personal cost, will be the first to get it. That the ECC has allocated funds for the vaccine is a welcome sign and shows the government is thinking about the huge task ahead, which may be complicated by the vaccine’s storage and other requirements. The government is considering key features of the vaccines being developed, including their efficacy, safety, side effects, storage, cost, and production capacity.
As the negotiations between the government and vaccine producers take place, it is imperative that attention be given to surmounting the logistical challenges as well as ensuring that there is no profiteering as often happens in such crises. A successful vaccination programme in Pakistan will bring much-needed relief to front-line workers and other vulnerable people, who have spent the greater part of the year living in fear, away from their loved ones and often in isolation. The government owes an effective vaccination strategy to these heroes.
EVER since they were dislodged by the American invasion of their country in 2001, the Afghan Taliban have refused to recognise the Western-supported government in Kabul. In fact, their attitude towards the Afghan government has been derisive, and they have termed the administration foreign ‘puppets’. However, that rigid attitude seems to be changing, if slowly and cautiously. On Wednesday, representatives of both the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to take negotiations further in the Qatari capital Doha, where parleys have been continuing since September. While the Taliban and the Americans had signed a peace deal in February, it was clear to all that harmony in Afghanistan would not be possible unless the government, the Taliban and other major stakeholders talked to each other and reached an accord. Now, it seems there is some solid progress in that direction. Senior Afghan leader Dr Abdullah has termed it an “initial major step” while Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s point man for Afghanistan, has called the development “significant”.
In the complicated world of Afghan politics and peacemaking, even seemingly minor progress such as this carries weight. After all, that unfortunate country has been witnessing over four decades of tumult, and any development that augurs well for peace should be welcomed. Of course, the Americans have pushed the process, as bringing back US troops from Afghanistan has been one of the Trump administration’s key foreign policy goals. In this regard, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Doha last month and met both Afghan government and Taliban representatives. Pakistan has also welcomed the news of further talks between both sides as “an important development”. While the input of the country’s neighbours, as well as that of foreign forces involved in the country’s internal affairs — such as the US — is important, the fact remains that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the primary interest of the Afghan people themselves. And this is what the rulers in Kabul and the Taliban leadership must realise. For decades, the country has been a playground for superpowers and foreign forces playing new versions of the Great Game on its soil. Moreover, greedy, corrupt local warlords, religious fanatics and short-sighted politicians have also added to the mess thus preventing a functional political system from taking root. The future is now in the hands of the Afghan administration and the Taliban: either talk peace, or continue the endless cycle of violence.
THE international community should extend its maximum support to the United Nations’ endeavour to raise money for helping the world’s poor reeling from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 health crisis. A UN appeal to the world on Tuesday pointed out that the plague had increased the number of vulnerable people on the planet by around 40pc to a record 235m as governments were forced to shut down their economies to stop the spread of infection. The world body will require $35bn to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to the vulnerable in 2021, particularly in the developing countries. It also lists 160m people in 56 countries as being the most vulnerable with the economic stress of the pandemic forcing one in 33 people to seek emergency relief, up from one in 45 in 2020. There are valid fears that the number of poor and vulnerable people will continue to surge as the pandemic wipes out employment, fuels inflation and causes food insecurity going forward, even as governments get ready to approve new vaccines and green-light their mass production. Meanwhile, multiple famines are looming, the UN emergency chief said, adding that the situation was desperate for millions and had left the UN and its partners overwhelmed.
The UN will target about 3.3m as the most vulnerable and fragile segment in Pakistan, with 10.5m people requiring $285.3m for emergency relief, prevention and mitigation measures. Poverty is likely to surge rapidly from 24.3pc to 40pc as a series of unexpected shocks like locusts, the Covid-19 pandemic and drought have dealt a severe blow to livelihoods, small businesses and food security, and pushed the most vulnerable towards compounded crises, with little opportunity for recovery. Emergency measures like cash handouts for the poor have so far helped millions survive in the midst of the pandemic in cash-strapped countries such as Pakistan. But these nations can do only so much given their own meagre resources. It is time wealthier countries stepped forward and responded quickly and generously to the UN’s call.