Sat. Jul 4th, 2020

Tourism or Tragedy?


Peer Muhammad  

As the trajectory of COVID-19 is going fast and up with every moment and has now reached to the level of exponentially expansion and moving with threatening pace engulfing every segment of society and affecting every part of the country. Our health system has already wrecked and our medical teams have frustrated by fighting on multiple fronts and the toughest of it is the apathy of our power elites and irresponsible behavior of public at large to deal with the pandemic. Our resources are rapidly exhausting to cope with the monster and this is what the reality of situation. Even then, our core policymakers at the helm of affairs are going in the opposite direction even faster than the lethal virus. People are apparently in a state of helplessness and speechless as it appears that corona is knocking every door. With corona trajectory is going fast with exponential rate and health system is almost exhausted and resources are about to deplete to the end, people have started bearing the brunt of these policies and reaping what we have sowed months and weeks back by taking this serious issue in a non-serious way. This is a war and in every war you have some frontline soldiers. In this war our frontline soldiers are doctors and paramedics and we neither bothered to equip them with required weapons to fight, nor included them in policymaking to systematically defeat the enemy. Despite this, they are fighting and fighting bravely and sans resources. They have been continuously crying for help from government and public and it seems that they have been thrown before an equipped enemy by snatching everything from their hands. In reality, we made a mockery of them, left them to fight and die and made them to see dying people before them in a helpless situation who were supposed to save them from this pandemic. We as nation, partially responsible too for this state of affairs with our traditional irresponsible behavior in public places, markets and shopping malls by throwing every necessary pandemic SOP to bin. As nation, we not only failed to behave responsibly, but also miserably failed to hold accountable the power elite for what is going on.

If we look into the start of corona history, Pakistan was the last country in the region which had contracted the COVID-19 by reporting its maiden positive case on February 26 this year. Now we are making progress day-in and day- out leaving behind most of the countries not only in the region, but also in the world. This is what an alarming situation. At the initial stage, we had much time and ample space to cope with the situation and opportunity to mobilize the resources to confine the cases to a limited number and to limited areas as did by China. We never took it serious, rather taken it merely a simple flu, saying that it has only one percent of causality rate and issued advisories from the top level to not necessarily wear the facemask unless and until you are corona positive patient. Means that for wearing mask, your qualification should be corona patient. This announcement came from not lesser than our top health advisor of the country. This saga episode does not end here, we turned to fix the economy when there was time to keep social distancing and isolation and now the situation apparently at the level where we see neither the economy, nor the corona is in our control, and we are apparently on the way of nowhere.

When doctors made second appeal for a strict lockdown before Ramzan to cope with the situation, our authorities went again on the opposite way allowing congregation and shopping with some cosmetic SOPs, but that too never followed. Importance of Eid shopping and new clothes dominated the death threat. And the dividend of all these policies is coming and coming rapidly with daily tally crossing 4,000 cases with almost 100 daily deaths. Again it seems that we are still far from the target as we have set. We are behaving in the way as if we are in a test cricket match making efforts to increase our total score with caring to save the wickets and we are not ready to go for popular, even unpopular and effective strokes like in T20.

The latest effort of our federal government to further flourish the corona score is its announcement to open the tourism sector and welcoming people to Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and in Giligt-Baltistan amid rapidly hiking of the corona infected patients from the down country. While admitting the rapid spreading of the pandemic and importance of social distancing in this context, the prime minister also broke the news about more deaths ahead. And in the same breath, he announced to unleash the flow of tourists to the mountain areas. Imran Khan’s installed Chief Minister in KPK, who has no other option but to praise and welcome the decision, did the same, but the chief minister Gilgit-Baltistan, who has so far successfully controlled the pandemic better than any other province, strongly opposed this idea. Locals of Gilgit-Baltistan have also seriously reacted to this reckless idea of promotion of tourism at the time when people are begging to save their lives and lives of their children from corona, which is spreading fast and griping stronger. When I write this piece, there were round about 700 corona cases in GB and of them 80 percent have so far recovered. If the government makes this mistake to open this sector, then the frustrated citizens from big cities will throng to GB in a bid to get rid of corona frustration. Resultantly, this will not only unleash the pandemic there, but also ruin the entire health structure and the remaining economy of the province. This will be a wise move of the federal government to immediately set aside this idea rather to provide required funds to the GB government to fight out the existing cases and plug gaps to avoid further spreading the pandemic. This is the time to further break the chain of people and promote the idea of social distancing instead of encouraging people to assemble in the mountains where resource-crunch province already lacks health facility to tackle if any pandemic is outbreak at a large scale. In nutshell, any such strategy will not be a promotion of economy through tourism, but will be ‘tragedy’ against the resource-less mountain communities, who have so far voluntarily demonstrated responsible approach to face the challenge while strictly following the WHO SOPs and health guidelines. They have no resources to cope with the monster in the shape of tourism at this time when they are going through a trauma.

Remember that there was zero tourism in GB for years in the aftermath of 9/11 coupled with sectarian clashes, but no one died of hunger or poverty for years as the people have ample resilience to live without tourism at least during this uncertain situation.

May Almighty Allah save our people from evils and give the rulers the vision to act responsibly and sincerely. 

The writer is a senior journalist and worked for national and international media.

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