COVID19: Situation in Pakistan
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 many have wondered when and if at all the world will return to “normal”. It was a ‘pleasant surprise’ to see Pakistan in the 3rd place on the Normalcy Index, as mentioned in the July edition of ‘The Economist’ (economic recovery and the return to pre pandemic life). These sentiments were shared by Imtiaz Gul , a senior journalist from Pakistan in late August. As he explained in his analysis that there is no one factor that works in isolation; be it vaccination, lock down, smart lock down or economic policies attached to COVID-19 or everything in combination.The covid situation, however, saw the emergence of a new department in the country: “National Command Operation Center” (NCOC). https://ncoc.gov.pk/ The NCOC in the covid situation became the nerve centre to synergize and bring together the civil and military leadership together and not only work closely but also give out dynamic information on a daily basis- the collected data its monitoring and through a publically available online system. The system allowed the everyone to see minutest of details such as what is the situation of COVID patients bed occupancy in a city , and even a hospital. This was ‘an unprecedented documentation’ that has happened of public health facilities.
The NCOC acted as a nodal agency that would give instructions and advisory on open up indoor dining, gyms or opening up of cinema halls. Advisory based on the situational analysis was also given to educational institutes to open up or closing down, keeping the safety and heath of the students in mind based on the data and instructions by NCOC.
Under the facilitation of the NCOC, more than 25 million people have been fully vaccinated, and more than 56 million people partially vaccinated against the coronavirus COVID-19 so far. A little over two million cases of COVID-19 have been reported and more than 27,000 people have been reported to have succumbed to the disease.
As of 27th September this is the vaccination status:
Pakistan initiated its vaccination drive in February 2021 using Sinopharm, Cansino, Sinovac, Sputnik and AstraZeneca. Out of these, unfortunately, only AstraZeneca was approved by European Medicines Agency (EMA). This essentially meant that despite getting two doses of vaccinations travellers were still unable to apply for visas or purchase tickets for travel to EU It was only after May, 2021 when other vaccines started arriving to Pakistan through COVAX the EU has explicitly said that the EU COVID-19 vaccination passport will be issued singularly to those who have received any of the vaccines approved by the EMA. Out of 8 million doses received so far, 2.4 million doses of AstraZeneca, 100 thousand doses of Pfizer and 5.5 million doses of Moderna are now giving a lifeline to travellers who want to travel to other countries for jobs, education or business or even leisure. But all is not clear for some.
“I am completely vaccinated, yet I honestly don’t know when I will go back to China and start attending my classes of Medicine” as shared by a 22 year male student from Pakistan who is now continuing his medical education online. “We had 120 students studying medicine in China, with 80 from Pakistan and rest from African and South American countries. We 70 Pakistanis decided to come to Pakistan in 2019 and now we are in a limbo. Our other class fellows who decided to stay back are now attending classes in person. I am taking online classes but I cannot do ward rotations online!”
I am taking online classes but I cannot do ward rotations online!
As we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we faced a unique challenge. The challenge of an overabundance of information. Some of this information was found to be false and potentially harmful. In Pakistan, most of us rely on information passed by friends and family. This became an issue when dark social media like Whatsapp is in the mix! Even seasoned journalists had trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction. With the rise of online education and primary to university classes going online there was a need for youth to be aware of finer distinction between satire or funny to fake and malicious content.
In Pakistan the standard operating procedures (SoPs) in public life like going to banks, stores and hospitals etc. are taken seriously and can be reasonably enforced. However, at family unit level even NCOC cannot change behaviour of people to adhere to simple SoPs like mask wearing and social distancing. Attending funerals, weddings and political gatherings and generally outdoor activities were taken with more relaxed attitude.
“If we don’t attend any funeral of our neighbours family then no one will come to any funeral in our family! We know about corona and its health problems but we are healthy, we pray and wash our hands daily, this should be enough” as shared by a housewife, 55.
Another aspect that needs to be taken into account is the change in covid appropriate behaviour, especially in the urban-rural divide. Travel 50 km away from any city center and masks adherence goes down to almost zero. The only time when urban Pakistani started taking COVID-19 SoPs seriously is when scenes from across the border about the death toll of Delta variant in India started coming up in media and social media. Suddenly masks were firmly placed on noses rather than hanging from ears or only on the face. The government is continuously sending Public Service Messages via all mediums to follow SoPs.
It was ‘an unprecedented documentation’ of healthcare system in Pakistan by NCOC
Since its outbreak in late December 2019, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world and like any critical sector, education has been hit hard. Clear and actionable guidance for parents, children and teachers for a safe return to school in the context of COVID-19 has been something that everyone has been watching out for. “We are bored of Corona! We want to go back to school!” , these are words that you might not hear from children but the parents are often overburdened by home-schooling and monitoring children as they take classes online. The most recent smart lock down in the Capital city of Islamabad was in place from 4th to 12th September in the face of rising case numbers in hospitals. Which essentially means online school, no intercity public transport (which already is overcrowded), ban on indoor gatherings and indoor sports facilities closure.
In contrast, educationists in South Asia are of the opinion that if markets can open so can schools. “ This recent lockdown was a total surprise, but we need to find a permanent solution. My suggestion to NCOC is to make a committee and ask from all stakeholders as to how we should move forward in education sector in Pakistan. The 50% attendance was working as parents and children were able to manage education with safety. But this total shutdown and lockdown is quite detrimental”, said Mian Imran Masood, Pakistan Education Council and IAF Gummersbach Alumni
To discuss these questions from a regional perspective FNF South Asia organized a web talk on how we can restart education in South Asia:
The difference between lockdowns across other countries and Pakistan is this: in one week things will go back to normal. There will be street food, there will be traffic on road and life will return to normal. This week people will do something else. At least that is what Pakistani citizens hope it to be.