Pakistan: Coronavirus, Lives and Livelihoods
Age Factor in Covid19 Mortality:
Over 40% of all coronavirus deaths in Europe and America have occurred among the elderly living in nursing homes. Pakistanis age 60+ account for 19% of cases but 58% of deaths. Like US and Europe, older people are much more likely to die from coronavirus in Pakistan. But average life expectancy in Pakistan is just 67 years and the median age in the country is only 22 years. The explanations offered for low death rates in South Asia include younger populations, more sunshine, higher temperature and humidity, universal BCG vaccinations etc. Yale researchers have argued in a recently published paper to consider universal mask adoption and increased hygiene measures as an alternative to complete lockdown.
|March 2020 Manufacturing Data. Source: Pakistan Bureau of Statistics|
Pakistan Manufacturing Data:
The March figures released by Pakistan Bureau Statistics confirm a precipitous drop of 22.95% in large scale manufacturing. This reflects halt in production in just the last one week of March 2020. April 2020 figures are almost certain to be a lot worse due to complete halt in production amid lockdown. It's spelling disaster for millions of employees and households linked to these industries. Government handouts can not replace household incomes generated from these industries.
While food production held up well in March, manufacturing of durables like air-conditioners, refrigerators, and deep freezers have plummeted. For example, production of refrigerators fell 34% from 86,107 in March 2019 to 56,449 in March 2020. Number of television sets produced in March 2020 declined 34% to 19,790 from 30,788 in the same month last year.
|Comparison of Confirmed Cases in Selected Countries. Source: Our World in Data|
Coronavirus Infections and Deaths:
As of May 16, Pakistan has 38,755 cases and 834 deaths. These figures are among the lowest in the world. There are many theories explaining why Pakistan and the rest of South Asia have fared much better than America and Europe. To put it in perspective, there were 31 coronavirus related deaths in Pakistan where 4,000 people die on a regular day. Any major change in daily death rates in recent weeks would not go unnoticed. While it is true that the testing rates in South Asia are low compared to America and Europe, the percentages of people testing positive and fatality rates in South Asia are also low. The explanations offered for low coronavirus infection and death rates in South Asia include more sunshine, higher temperature and humidity, younger demographics, universal BCG vaccinations etc.
|Comparison of Coronavirus Deaths in Selected Countries. Source: Our World in Data|
Social Distancing Cost-Benefit Analysis:
In a recently published paper tiled "The Benefits and Costs of Social Distancing in Rich and PoorCountries", Yale researchers support universal mask adoption and increased hygiene measures as a alternatives to social distancing and complete lockdown.
Zachary Barnett-Howell and Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak of Yale University argue that "social distancing policies are estimated to be less effective in poor countries with younger populations less susceptible to COVID-19, and more limited healthcare systems, which were overwhelmed before the pandemic". Here's an excerpt of the Yale paper:
"Poorer people are less willing to make...economic sacrifices. They place relatively greater value on their livelihood concerns compared to contracting COVID-19. Not only are the epidemiological and economic benefits of social distancing much smaller in poorer countries, such policies may exact a heavy toll on the poorest and most vulnerable. Workers in the informal sector lack the resources and social protections to isolate themselves and sacrifice economic opportunities until the virus passes. By limiting their ability to earn a living, social distancing can lead to an increase in hunger, deprivation, and related mortality and morbidity. Rather than a blanket adoption of social distancing measures, we advocate for the exploration of alternative harm-reduction strategies, including universal mask adoption and increased hygiene measures."
While coronavirus infections and death rates in Pakistan are among the lowest, the nation's economy and livelihoods are in serious jeopardy. With or without coronavirus pandemic, we take risks everyday when we leave our homes to go to work or school, theaters or playground, or shopping. Risks we face range from street crimes and road accidents to lightening strikes. We need to make similar assessments of risks from diseases which vary from place to place. Pakistanis do not necessarily face the same level of risk from coronavirus as people living in America and Europe do. The explanations offered for low coronavirus infection and death rates in South Asia include more sunshine, higher temperature and humidity, younger demographics, universal BCG vaccinations etc. There is a need to weigh the risk of catching coronavirus against the loss of livelihoods in places like Pakistan. Yale researchers have argued in a recently published paper to consider universal mask adoption and increased hygiene measures as an alternative to complete lockdown.
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