What we can do to help the government during COVID-19

Published: March 25, 2020

A vendor waits for customers as he sells face-masks along a street. PHOTO: GETTY

Life is full of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. But some surprises are more of a shock than anything else. A rude awakening of sorts.  Just a few days ago, life was normal. You were perhaps planning a family holiday, maybe thinking of what needs to be done around the house and making a grocery list for the next month. And suddenly, everything changed. China was under attack from a very different kind of enemy, a virus. One that rapidly spread across the globe and shut down economies. In a few short weeks, it forced various governments to shut borders, suspend flights and declare shopping malls, parks and cinemas as no go zones. 

A state of lockdown has become the new normal, one that promises to cause as much agony as the coronavirus itself, if not more. As countries adopt strict measures to curb the spread of the virus, the global economy is taking a severe blow.  The pandemic could potentially wipe off up to $1 trillion from the world economy, if the situation stays the way it is, without worsening, which it seems to be. All sectors of the economy have taken a hard hit, with an economic recession on the cards. Global supply chains have been disrupted due to closure of factories and movement of people is being curtailed, if not banned altogether.

The worsening economy is already rendering people jobless and leaving them without sources of income. The worst hit industries including hotels, eateries and airlines are already laying people off with more projected cuts to follow. Some are calling the current times another Great Depression while others are making horrifying comparisons with the recession of 2008.

Every country will deal with the crisis in its own way but it is obvious that weaker economies, already marred by stagnant growth and high levels of debt, will have fewer options. Implementing social safety programmes such as direct cash transfers and food deliveries will be a daunting task for them.

Many countries with weaker economies have already started to look towards international donor organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for help. Even though these organisations have started pumping money into the coronavirus emergency, it is likely they may also get overrun by the sheer size of the pandemic, coupled with the uncertainty of its duration.

At such uncertain economic times, the low-income strata of almost all societies are the most vulnerable and swift measures are required to mitigate the impact on them. But in countries with weaker economies, such as Pakistan, the effects are more devastating.  With more than four million daily wagers affected in Karachi alone by the lockdown, it is important that all segments of society get together to support them.

It will be impossible for the government to handle the pandemic alone and it is each citizen’s responsibility to play their part. This part can be played not only by staying home and practicing social distancing but also by sharing resources such as money and food.

Several volunteer based organsations have started food and monthly ration programmes for those effected by the pandemic. As citizens, if we cannot volunteer our services, we can at least join our hands (strictly metaphorically) to either donate to such organisations or gather food and medicines for them.

The coronavirus pandemic warrants a collective response and requires us to be compassionate, otherwise the anticipated economic recession following the COVID-19 outbreak may take even more lives, and that too in a slow, painful manner. We cannot let that happen! We must put public welfare ahead of our personal comforts and pay heed to the outbreak’s harsh reminder that what we do as an individual can affect all of society.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.