Pakistan got its first patient of Coronavirus on February 26, 2020. The bull was taken by the horns; measures adopted, awareness imparted, the bullet dodged and international eulogies gathered. The life sprang back to normal. All the SOPs were joyfully thrown out of the window and around end October, the government announced the advent of second wave of the monstrosity. As per the data released by National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), the Covid-19 national positivity has surged up to 7.01% (at the time of writing). Despite, all the social moratoriums, the lessons accrued post first wave, improved healthcare facilities, easy availability of cheap face masks and sanitizing liquids etc., the second wave hit us hard. This begets the question of deconstructing the social behaviours in our country; behaviours that could have easily foretold the arrival of second wave.
Dr. Geert Hofstede’s “Cultural Dimension”, should explain the current state of affairs rather accurately. One of the Hofstede’s dimension is “uncertainty avoidance”. The uncertainty avoidance index deliberates the extent to which uncertainty and ambiguity are tolerated in a society. This dimension considers how unexpected situations and events (read global pandemics) are handled. A low uncertainty avoidance index indicates a high tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity and risk-taking. The unknown is more readily accepted, and rules and regulations are followed to a certain level only. Another dimension called the “Individualism vs. Collectivism” considers the degree to which societies are glued together into groups and their perceived obligations and dependence on groups. Individualism indicates that there is a greater importance placed on achieving personal goals.
Both of the above stated dimensions explain the attitudes of our society at display in the face of the current pandemic. While the government did an exceedingly good job at formulating policies, their implementation by the public remains hauntingly shallow. The ‘uncertainty’ is tolerated by obdurately referring it as ‘the Will of Allah’ and ‘Destiny’. “If its one’s time to go, he will; otherwise nothing can harm him” is a widely accepted ethos. This acceptance of lack of adherence to government directives and procedures results into an appalling rise in fatalities, that we are witnessing today. Secondly, when the individual interests superseded the group interests, the society as a whole is not prepared to handle the challenges like faced today.
While, on the surface the Pakistani community is strongly bonded in bradari, caste and clan systems, underlying is the individualistic approach that leads to majority seeking personal gains, temporariness in all ventures and myopic self-centered credos. Every shop has a poster at entrance that reads that entry without facemask is forbidden. However, inside most of the shopkeepers do not wear the mask themselves let alone the customers. Every public place has good markings for maintaining prophylactic social distancing; almost none of them follow the protocol. Mostly the merchants dim their lights at 10:00 p.m. and continue their business. The cafes teem with consumers late into the night. And if that is not enough, some schools blatantly refuse to close down; schools that we entrust for shaping our posterity for the betterment of society. In nutshell, every individual is willing to continue his business for his gains, regardless of the health impacts on society at large. Viewed from a distance, the onset of second wave seems inevitable. It had never been the question of government’s will but of its inability to execute.
To top that all off, it is unlikely that the government would be able to dole out any further significant grants in R&D of Corona Vaccine. The vaccine itself, will not be available before autumn next year. As Ali Salman notes, the public debt-to-GDP ratio has crossed 87% thus violating the constitutional limit of 60%. The increased foreign remittances and Roshan Digital Accounts are proving to be helpful; these channels are also seemingly going to come under pressure because of the fast changing Middle East geopolitical situation.
In face of such daunting odds wherein a society tolerates rules breaking, puts personal interests first, and still refers to it as ‘novel’ Coronavirus, a mere fine of Rs 100 will not suffice. The government machinery at grass root level will have to be shaken for implementing the larger policies. Heavy fine levied against infractions has to be ensured regardless of their magnitude i.e. whether a shopkeeper is wearing mask on his chin (instead of mouth and nose) or some political movement is organizing public rallies to save democracy. Additionally, local clergy needs to be brought onboard for encouraging self-sequestering, particularly for the geriatrics and people with exiting medical conditions and discouraging mass-gatherings. The wedding ceremonies will have to be curtailed altogether and all schools need to close down.
While the government apparatus has once again been actuated for a timely action against the spread of the virus in the country, the situation still remains exceedingly fluid and warrants a cautioned approach. If the third wave is to be avoided, the government’s decision of saving both lives and livelihoods (via micro-lockdown) needs strict observance across the country.
(The writer is freelance columnist)