Is Pakistan ready for the twin economic and health care crises from Coronavirus

The Imran Khan led PTI government may keep repeating ad nauseum that Pakistan is well prepared to deal with any consequences of coronavirus but the reality is the opposite.

As an editorial in the Dawn states it is only with the official admission that Pakistan has 2 cases that the government has started to act but it has a massive problem on its hands. “For one, state-of-the-art quarantine and treatment facilities are needed in virtually all districts with special instructions to healthcare staff on how to manage COVID-19 patients. At present, there are only five quarantine facilities in the country — two in Islamabad, two in Rawalpindi and one in Karachi. This is clearly not enough to deal with a potential outbreak. Suspected patients being transported to these facilities from the rural areas will have plenty of time along the way to transmit the virus to others. The pace of diagnosis should also be speeded up, while equipping at least some of the more reputed health facilities to test patients for COVID-19 would ease the burden on the National Institute of Health that is currently conducting most of the diagnostic tests.”

Further, as the Editorial notes “all levels of the healthcare system — national, provincial and district — will have to work in tandem under a clear, comprehensive, globally accepted strategy. Anything less could be a recipe for disaster— and Pakistan, with its myriad health challenges, such as the resurgence of polio, has so far not proved itself adept at tackling crises.”

An investigative report in Dawn looks at the upcoming economic crises. “Dawn’s investigation reaffirmed that no structured exercise to identify the most vulnerable sectors/segments or quantify the possible impact on trade, manufacturing and growth has officially been undertaken so far. Most officers in the Ministry of Planning, industry, Federal Board of Revenue and customs were caught unaware when Dawn approached them.”

Further, “Pakistan is clearly ill-prepared to deal with the possible impact of the epidemic crisis in China that may take time to subside. It can lead to supply chain disruptions, amplify the inflation and suppress consumer and business confidence, rattling the fragile economy and dragging the low GDP growth rate further down. There is an uneasy calm in business circles. Private companies are exploring alternatives to source their raw material and merchandise, despite the price differential as reports of growing global anxieties over the epidemic trickle through media. All efforts are directed to minimising the chances of panic in the retail market, securing the market share and keeping manufacturing units operational.”

Finally, “Prime Minister Imran Khan has offered to assist China in the fight against the virus but back home his government has yet to absorb the gravity of the risk to the struggling economy. There is a halfhearted effort to assess the impact but the requisite strategy is not even in the works. The Planning Commission has yet to initiate an exercise to quantify the possible impact on trade, manufacturing, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and GDP growth. The focus in the finance ministry is on the expected savings in the oil import bill with the price dip and using it to improve the fiscal balance. If that deprives the people and businesses of the price benefits, so be it.”

Author: Shaista Sindhu

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Author: Shaista Sindhu