Tackling the crisis.

Byline: Umair Javed

BY now, it is clear that the federal government's position on handling the fallout from the virus is based on its understanding of a trade-off between subsistence and disease-burden. At various points in the preceding couple of weeks, government representatives have stated (often very clearly) that they cannot cater to the population's welfare needs that emerge from a shuttered economy.

The gradual ease-up in restrictions on businesses is therefore the government's way of finding welfare solutions through the private sector, or more generally, through the workings of the market. It is also, unfortunately, an admission of binding constraints - that the state cannot expand its capacity at such short notice; that it does not have the institutionalised linkages with civil society which would allow it to reach vast swathes of the population through voluntary efforts; that it does not have the fiscal resources (or cannot reallocate the ones that it does have) any more than what has been committed already.

Pandemics or disasters of any kind are both a litmus test for a state's capacity, and a catalyst for rapid expansion in what states are capable of. We've seen both aspects already - the rapid and admirable expansion of a cash transfer programme, which one hopes is here to stay; and the admission that subsistence will have to come through the market.

None of this changes the fact that a public health crisis still exists. The disease hasn't gone away, and neither has its potency. Easing restrictions on some sectors and allowing the return of economic normalcy in some form only (partly) helps out with one issue; it does nothing for the other.

This crisis has triggered an upsurge in intellectual work from academia, civil society, and professionals from other domains.

Thankfully, this crisis has also triggered an upsurge in intellectual work from academia, civil society, and professionals from other domains who are providing research, data analysis, and policy advice on Pakistan's options, while keeping in mind its significant capacity and fiscal constraints.

Much of this work is predicated on the logic that the options utilised by better-resourced countries to control the virus might not be available to Pakistan. At the same time, this should not be taken as an excuse to do nothing at all. There are smarter, less resource-intensive solutions available, which can be piloted and scaled up depending on their relative success.


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