Pandemic, measures and prudence.

Pakistan is in the grip of Covid's third wave and the NCOC is aggressively announcing measures to counter it, ones that primarily include business closures: Curtailed working hours, shorter working weeks and now the unending Eid holidays! All very well and given the grave situation, perhaps needed, however care needs to be taken that the NCOC Chairman does not get carried away and ends up indulging in overkill. Pakistan is a country supporting 230 million people, both per capita and personal savings being rather low and poverty-pockets aplenty. Any further contraction of the economy will be simply unsustainable, as it would stoke poverty and reduce the size of the economy to a level where debt servicing will become improbable, rendering the country into facing imminent default. What is important is that when devising such policies, economic numbers need to be taken in perspective and any tradeoffs be carefully tabulated to ascertain the affordability. More importantly, global connectivity fallouts from an over hyped panic have also to be very carefully calculated, since onward damages from a negative international perception and subsequent disruptions in travel and trade could far outweigh even the domestic losses. In short, it would be folly to discount the economic side when formulating a strategy against the pandemic. The NCOC Chairman in his earlier role as the finance minister has been guilty of spiralling an economic contraction, something the newly-appointed finance minister needs to be wary of, lest it now repeats itself this time courtesy the NCOC.

Only a few weeks back, similar restrictions led to an uprising in Turkey and the government had to backtrack. Hobbled by extended forced closures, Ozgur Akbas (a tobacconist) helped organise a demonstration in Istanbul to protest what he called unfair rules imposed on merchants during the pandemic, leaving them on the verge of suicide. Turks have been grappling with a balance of payments crisis, falling currency and double-digit inflation for more than two years. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it exacerbated the situation, sharply worsening the country's deep recession. A year down the road and as this third wave of the virus sweeps through the country, there are signs that a significant portion of the population is overwhelmed by debt and increasingly going hungry. Ironically, our situation has been no different. Stung by massive devaluation and an ever-lasting...

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