Somehow a small country in South Asia managed to outperform both the beacon of civilization in the West as well as the world’s largest democracy in terms of the coronavirus. While the United States of America sits as the world’s worst-hit country, with 5.5 million coronavirus cases, and India isn’t too far behind as the world’s third worst-hit country with nearly 3 million cases, somehow it seems Pakistan has left the worst of the crisis behind it, with the curve having significantly flattened.
How did this happen? How did Pakistan, a country rife with corruption, poverty and illiteracy manage to bring such a 180 degree shift in its efforts against the coronavirus? Not too long ago, it was forecast by an Imperial College London study that Pakistan would have almost 79,000 deaths due to the coronavirus by August 10. But instead, today, on August 20, as of publication, Pakistan has only lost a little over 6,000 lives to the coronavirus. It got to the point where even Bill Gates praised Pakistan’s efforts against the coronavirus, while noting that “The COVID-19 situation in Indian is similar to that of South America”.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, of course, has expressed pride in his smart lock-down strategy and attributed much of Pakistan’s success to it.
There is, of course, at least some truth to that. It’s highly unlikely that it’s a coincidence that Sindh, the province which offered the most opposition to the federal government’s policies, is the worst-struck province by the coronavirus. But are we really to believe that the smart lock-down by itself brought about such a massive change?
But, the problem with that theory is that lock-downs happened everywhere. India locked down till 31st May and yet, although the positive impact of the lock-down is undeniable, nonetheless stands as one of the world’s worst-hit countries. Even the United States locked down to a significant degree, yet stands very badly hit.
Of course, these could be associated with different population demographics and it could be perfectly possible that it was Imran Khan’s smart lock-down which stopped the coronavirus. But some disagree.
The opposition has argued that the reason behind Pakistan’s improvement against the coronavirus isn’t an improvement at all and is instead a reduction in testing. The reduction in testing is true, of course, but PTI’s Asad Umar debunked this by claiming that the positivity ratio of testing had decreased by nearly 60% between mid-June and mid-July and that the reduction in testing could therefore not be the reason.
There are other propositions too.
Some writers have brought up the fact that, unlike countries in the West, Pakistan doesn’t really have closed, unventilated places such as nightclubs or bars, which are the prime locations for coronavirus transmission. Pakistan generally has few of these. While there is the danger of mosques, there is the fact that mosques are generally ventilated and people don’t talk or breathe heavily as they do in bars and mosques. So, it could be that Pakistan’s Islamic lifestyle did contribute after all to its success against the coronavirus.
On the other hand, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, a leading epidemiologist at the National Emergency Operation Centre in Islamabad suggested that Pakistanis may have a “non-specific immunity” due to their prior exposure to multiple vaccines or that the humid weather may be helping the fight against the coronavirus. However, other experts disagreed with many saying there is insufficient evidence to prove the vaccine or humidity theory were viable.
There have been some anonymous allegations that government officials are deliberately misrepresenting facts regarding coronavirus and reporting fewer cases than there actually are. This is a frightening idea, but it is hard to believe that it could be widespread enough to cause a significant decrease in reported cases.
Either way, however, it is certainly a huge milestone for Pakistan that it fought the coronavirus as well as it did. One can only hope that countries like India and the USA, despite our national differences with them, are eventually equally successful against the coronavirus and this pandemic is soon defeated.