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COVID-19: A reminder for kindness, empathy and responsibility in these testing times.

The world remains powerless in front of Nature’s calamity.

In recent human history, World War II was a miscalculated catastrophe that resulted in global destruction. Recorded as the deadliest war in world history, it lasted six years, saw ruthless involvement of 30 nations, with causalities as high as 70-80 Million, and an estimated economic loss of USD 1 Trillion. The damage was beyond numbers; nations were destroyed, political global system overturned and the cruelty of those living in this world marked. Ammunition, bombing and genocide scarred humanity, leaving it in misery, deprivation, and suffering.

Today, 75 years later, a global catastrophe is caused by a single unidentified micro-droplet. Corona Virus (COVID-19) that started from Wuhan, China has spread to 190+ countries across the world. In less than four months, 1.5 Million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed with 91,000 deaths (as at 9th April). The USA has the highest number of reported cases whereas, in Italy alone, the death toll has surpassed 18,000. As individuals from all races, nationalities and religions are being directly affected by it, the concern and response is pronounced than other global challenges such as global warming.

Despite clear warnings by scientists and environmental experts, global warming and climate change have not been given due urgent consideration – neither by governments nor individuals. The city of Lahore is one such example; no policy was put in place until last year when drastic change in air quality was evident. Why? Because it had not hit people yet – it was the animal race that was suffering. Sadly, that has been the extent of indifference and unkindness. Let’s not forget that even before the coronavirus, air pollution killed seven million people a year; the indifference has killed seven million people a year.

In Pakistan, the first COVID-19 case was reported in end February 2020. In less than 45 days, the numbers have escalated to 4,600 reported cases of which 3,900 are active. 66 causalities have been reported so far – the effect, like the World War II is beyond this – the economy that had just started to show signs of recovery is now suffering without a buffer. The economic impact is expected to further worsen post-COVID.

The Government of Pakistan is taking responsibly calculated measures. The underlying primary concern are the poor – the labor class and daily wagers, the homeless and small enterprise owners. Its measures such as opting for a partial lockdown amidst harsh opposition directly displays clear prioritization and empathy. Taking a bird’s eye view, the government’s strategy can be categorized as Precaution, Recovery and Relief.

The first category ‘Precaution’ consists of measures taken to minimize the spread of the virus. Foremost, it includes a lockdown, a holistic step supported by a massive nationwide awareness campaign. The Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation and live press conferences have revived public sensitivity to the matter. In addition, the support from Digital Pakistan in setting up the COVID helpline and dashboard has allowed centralization of open data, information dissemination and timely SMS-based alert of any active cases in mobile-users proximity.

The next phase is ‘Recovery’ – it includes optimal use of existing resources for rapid response in a resource constraint health sector, recipient of approximately only 1% of the GDP. With the spread of the virus in Punjab, the number of beds in designated hospitals proved to be insufficient. In this regard, the provincial government’s efforts such as setting up of 1000-bed COVID field hospital at the Lahore Expo Center is appreciable.

The third category is ‘Relief’ – provision of socioeconomic relief for the most effected, in terms of cash transfer, and concession for the business sector so labourers and workers remain supported. Under the umbrella of Ehsaas Program, PKR 144 Billion will be disbursed among 12 Million families across the country as emergency cash. These are families of daily wagers and piece workers who have no source of income in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown; no source of income simply means no food for the family. With an unknown period of the virus prevalence, the emergency cash transfer is an empathetic measure by the government to restore hope among the affected.

In its effort to manage any extreme measure for example a complete lockdown such that the locals do not go without basic food supplies, the government has rightly mobilized the youth, Pakistan’s asset, as volunteers. As many as 850,000 individuals have already signed up for The Corona Tiger Force from across the country. The impact of this movement will go beyond this generation as the sense of responsibility gets transferred.

Governments across the world are taking measures at different levels, largely based on their economic standing. The US may have announced a USD 2 Trillion relief package but regardless of an advanced healthcare system, it remains helpless in front of the spread and effect of COVID-19. An economic and political ‘superpower’ remains powerless in front of a single micro-droplet. Europe too remains powerless in front of a single micro-droplet. The world remains powerless in front of Nature’s calamity.

The Almighty created this world in balance. Every time the inhabitants have damaged the balance by blurring the defined line between the right and the wrong, between kindness and unkindness, between responsibility and irresponsibility, a calamity has hit – at times more intense than others in human history. Why? To bring this world back to the basics, to restore that balance which is essential for human survival.

The positive impact on environment and climate change is already visible. According to Stanford University calculations, the drop in air pollution due to COVID-19 lockdown is likely to have saved between 53,000-77,000 lives in China; many times more than the direct toll of the virus. In Lahore, Pakistan the air quality index has improved from ‘Hazardous’ in December last year to ‘Moderate’ owing to the partial lockdown in the city. Will the same positive impact be evident in humans as well?

It is the choices and decisions of humans that will decide it – it is now upon humans to decide whether they return to that clearly unsustainable inhuman status-quo or they return to the basic, restoring that balance in the society. The pre-requisite is simple: let go off the indifference. Lead a life such that it empowers those around and brings out the better in them – apply this on individuals, startups and organizations, groups and societies and you have a better, more kind world.

The Post-World War II era was of opportunity – opportunity to let go off old ways of industrial production, innovate and adopt more efficient technology. In the same manner, the world has an opportunity once again to embrace simplicity, come up with newer tech-based ways to leverage this new order. Startups and SMEs have an essential role to play – of jumpstarting a post-catastrophe economy, by creating job opportunities and facilitating economic activity.

In the realm of policy-making and governance, Pakistan now has the foundation to build on technology-driven and evidence-based data for policy measures. The questionable priorities of the previous regimes have come out in open, more clear than ever, indicating a strong need to reform and build its health, education and disaster management systems.

In doing so, women have an integral role to play as the anchor of households – of defining the right heroes for the next generation. It will keep the balance in place with empathy and responsibility as key factors. It will put forth those who live a life beyond the self, to socially and economically uplift the society. For otherwise, the world also has a choice to repeat the mistake of a miscalculated World War II – this time a warfare for a share of the economically depleted global economy.

What do the humans choose – a balanced world that brings sustained innovation or another pandemic for the next generation?

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