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Old Friday, June 05, 2020
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Default Please check and highlight mistakes: Dangerous path of herd immunity

The authorities in Pakistan have embarked on an undeclared path of herd immunity, while disregarding the earnest requests of the frontline warriors, the doctors. Undoubtedly, the primary driver of this decision is the poor economic health of the country. Nonetheless, keeping in view 2.2 percent mortality rate per hundred infections, the pretension on the part of authorities that “everything is under control” is certainly worrisome.

Herd immunity in the medical jargon is defined as mass immunisation of the population which is possible in two ways. Firstly, the vast population is to be injected with antibodies, a type of passive immunity. Secondly, to expose the population with the virus and those who are physically fit enough will succeed in overcoming the virus and will develop active immunity against that particular virus. Since the vaccine is nowhere yet in the sight, then obviously the latter mode of immunity is to be considered, which is dangerous, inhumane, and undoubtedly will take a heavy toll on the precious human lives in the near future.

Amidst the poor healthcare infrastructure of Pakistan coupled with strain on the medical equipment throughout the world, it is not less than playing with fire to opt for herd immunity giving precedence to economic vulnerabilities at the cost of human lives. With a population of 220 million, doing maths to calculate the expected number of deaths in view of 2.2 pc mortality rate is too scary to estimate. One needs a strong spine to tell the tally in case 150 or 200 million souls are infected with the Covid-19 and resultant expected fatalities.

Prevailing assumption that more people are dying from roads and other accidents than Covid-19 is nothing more than preposterous assumption, complacency and to keep oneself in the unrealisable hope that things “may” get better. Certainly, it goes against the scientific and medical principles. In other words, it is propagation of unreasoning in the age of reasoning.

It is necessary to understand the subtle difference between the man-made disasters and the contagion. In former case, fatalities are calculable and avoidable with careful handling of the situation as the disease does not spread from one person to the other. On the other side, in the latter situation one infected person has a capacity to infected as many persons as one may come into contact with during the active phase of virus. In effect, there will be the maximum number of infections and deaths. In the absence of medicines against Covid-19, equating road accident and bacterial infection related deaths, we are understandably and willingly inviting an unmanageable disaster.

Ironically, we are a self-contradictory nation. On the one hand, day in and day out doctors are being saluted as the frontline warriors in our fight against the virus. In contrast, we have taken a 180 degree turn on their advice of stricter lockdown, social distancing, and other precautionary measures as the medical practitioners have warned that in case lockdown is relaxed there may be stage in future when the doctors will have to make difficult choices of whom to provide treatment first due to the possible flooding of patients into the hospitals.

We are a nation that believes in repeating history but that side of history which is injurious to ourselves. In spite of the fact, Pakistan had had a reasonable time to prepare itself for the impending viral outbreak when it first emerged in China or elsewhere, however the powers-that-be did not prepare in advance. At least, prior preparations could have helped in mitigating the pernicious effects of the virus. We, as a nation, are in deep slumber to be well-prepared in advance against any disaster. As a result, we end up causing more damaging to ourselves. It gives the impression that it is our deliberate choice.

Ironically, the government has introduced a new term ‘smart lockdown’. As per the authorities, by smart lockdown economic activities may be conducted along with ensuring the precautionary measures. Nonetheless, this seems an implausible calculation. We, as human beings, are inclined to taking risks. For instance, if a vendor has two options, one to either stay home and avoid risk of Covid-19 infection and other to go out and sell his products and the second choice entails risks of infection. He would certainly opt for the latter choice with a hope that he would escape the virus. And the hope is primarily responsible for the spike in infections.

Undeniably, 55 million (24pc) of population lives below the poverty line. Nevertheless, the government’s argument that the people will die of hunger due to lockdown is unsubstantiated. The downtrodden sections may undergo serious issues, but no one will die of hunger. At least, no such case has come to light. In Pakistan, our social system compels our relatives and acquaintances to help those of our relatives who are in-need. According to the statistics, around 1pc of GDP amount is donated by Pakistanis in charity every year. Hence, needy people could have been helped by the philanthropist organisations and individuals. It is also necessary to realise that the lives of those 55 million souls was neither easy even before the lockdown.

In this pursuit of unannounced herd immunity, the federal government is not entirely responsible. It was during the last meeting of the NCC that the leadership decided accordingly which had the participation of four chief ministers as well. The provinces may blame the centre, nonetheless it is evident that after the 18th amendment they have all the powers at their disposal in case they want to impose strict lockdown in order to give preference to saving lives.

Granted that the livelihoods do matter, however at this tipping point saving lives should have taken precedence over everything else. After all, economic recovery is a retrievable loss, while loss of lives is not. Be that as it may, there was a need to strike a balance between the saving likelihoods and lives. Common sense, medical experts’ warnings, and daily data on the infections unfortunately tell a sorry tale of impending dangers where health system may collapse because smart lockdown option and assumption that people would follow the SoPs is not going to happen no matter what. It is need of hour to re-consider the unannounced policy of herd immunity. At least impose restrictions on large gatherings in markets and prayer areas. More aggressive precautionary measures should be advocated otherwise we are bound to repent as we do after every disaster.
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Old Friday, June 05, 2020
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