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Are we heading towards the option of ‘Herd Immunity’?

By Mukhtar Paras Shah

While the world is at war with Corona-virus, we need to understand as to what are the policy perspectives for governments to combat this challenge? There are there are three major challenges for the respective governments; Leadership, Situation Analysis and Awareness. All these three challenges require data and concrete information while there is huge uncertainty all around.

The recent crisis in 185 countries has revealed that the biggest challenge to combat pandemic has been leadership. An effective leadership can be the one that ensures timely actions to limit the spread of virus, effective flow of information to avoid panic and a solid national strategy to inculcate sense of sense of responsibility among the citizens and stakeholders so that they can effectively join hands with the government. China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan have so far been helpful because of strong national decisions and effective health facilities at the local level. Although battle at Wuhan might be over but 5000 new cases are emerging in China daily and they have shown that they have the capability to monitor the situation. Countries like Iran and Italy have sadly faced death and disaster because their leadership either could not anticipate the threat or they failed to convince and contain the public. Thus it is very much an option that effective leadership may have to exercise force in order to take the right steps. Leadership in situations like this has to choose between options that can save more lives; it is a tradeoff situation between more deaths and less deaths.

Dependable data can help leadership to take a decision whether country is going for an option of Herd Immunity or a complete isolation for two weeks in the first phase of spread of pandemic. Policy makers cannot and should not take further steps to contain or limit the spread of pandemic on the basis of supposition. Data is instrumental for decisions. Concrete data is required to understand trends, facts and options for the governments. For example trends tell that as of today there are 1000 confirmed cases in Pakistan. It means there are approximately 10000 suspected cases in the country that can multiply to 50000 by the end of March 2020, if no measures for containment are taken. At this point of time government may require data to know whether virus is hitting urban centers or the rural milieus. So the question would be whether lockdown policy is applied on urban centers only where 35% people live?  If only 3% patients face death in COVID-19, then what does it mean for Pakistan? If the elderly are more vulnerable to this attack then what implications it can have on Pakistan where 65% of the population is under the age of 25 years. If 25% of the people live below the poverty line then how much of them are already being taken care of under BISP, Ehsas, Bait ul Maal Program? The world estimates are showing that 20 million people in Pakistan can be affected in this pandemic. The government needs to ask the questions whether, given the demographic features of Pakistan, this estimate is relevant and reliable. This data can surely help the policy makers to know the magnitude of fatalities in case option of Herd Immunity is adopted and number of anticipated casualties in case there is complete lockdown of activity across the country. I hope that there are enough researchers supporting the Ministry of Health, National Disaster Management Authority and the Office of the Prime Minister as well as Chief Ministers.

Answer to these questions can help leadership and policy makers to create awareness and sense of stability among the public. But we do not have much time to deliberate on these questions. At present social media and other unauthenticated platforms are spreading unsupported rumors to disseminate disinformation that is surely increasing a sense of panic many individuals. Robust, reliable analysis is vital at this stage not only as a way to give concerned members of the public a sense of perspective, but also to support governments and other stakeholders in planning their responses.  The citizens need to ensure that it is important to assess the information on the following baselines:

  1. What is the source of this information and what is the goal of this dissemination?
  2. How the data and findings are described and are they professional?
  3. What has been reported, and what has not?
  4. What is the quality of the information and is it misleading?

The responsibility to know and sift facts is not only on the governments but also on the people.

 The big question is as to how this pandemic is going to impact on our future policy perspectives. So far one lesson is very clear; our countries will need to invest more in hygiene, healthy food processing and sustainable livelihood. That is how our lives are going to be changed. 

(Mukhtar Paras Shah is Director General, STI; Centre of Excellence in Governance and Policy Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. Twitter @MukhtarParas Youtube: STI Policy Discourse). 

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