Cost of lockdown
When it comes to imposing a curfew-like lockdown to curtail Covid-19 surge in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan firmly stood against it and took all the criticism, arguing that a lockdown would hurt the economy. He believes the poor and daily wage workers would suffer the most.
The prime minister advocates alternatives such as ‘smart lockdown’, implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and an aggressive vaccination campaign to keep the economy afloat.
Echoing the sentiment, trade and business leaders are also unanimous that the industry and market owners should not be stopped from doing commercial activities, as it will not only destroy their businesses but would also result in massive unemployment.
“I know people will not be comfortable with [the] lockdown, but it is inevitable we have to bring the numbers down,” Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah told a news conference.
A large number of businessmen who are also member of the apex trade body of the country, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) expressed the fear that if the lockdown situation persists, the payment of salaries to their workers would remain a daunting task for them, as several industries and businesses have either been closed down or have been on the verge of collapse.
Expressing his reservation on the decision, FPCCI president Mian Nasser Hyatt Maggo said: “Pakistan’s economic hub, Karachi, should not be locked down completely in the larger national interest.”
Karachi is the financial and industrial capital of Pakistan. As of 2019, it has an estimated GDP of $164 billion. The city accounts for around half of the total collections of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), of which, approximately half of the collection came under the heads of Customs duty and sales tax on imports.
Karachi contributes around 30 per cent of the value-addition in the large-scale manufacturing, 25 per cent of GDP, and the World Bank identified Karachi as the most business-friendly city in Pakistan.
Maggo suggested: “The only solution out of the current situation, without causing any harm to businesses and employment opportunities, is to allow business and economic activities under strict compliance of SOPs and mandatory vaccination of the workforce.”
Explaining the negative impact of a day’s closure of businesses and markets in Karachi, All Karachi Tajir Ittehad chairman Atiq Mir said that the businessmen have to pay a huge price of over Rs3 billion for such a situation.
“Small traders and shopkeepers have been facing a lot of problems due to the lockdowns and limited business hours, and many businesses are on the verge of total collapse,” Businessmen Group chairman Zubair Motiwala said.
The BMG chairman said perhaps it is time the government should think about extending monetary help to citizens, especially small shopkeepers, who are now in a net debt position, and are paying rents to owners of their business premises.
Korangi Association of Trade and Industry (Kati) president Saleem-uz-Zaman suggested the government allow all businesses with SOPs to continue, as precaution was the only solution to fight the pandemic, but a complete lockdown of industries would increase unemployment to dangerous levels.
“The current wave of [the] coronavirus pandemic was taking a dangerous shape across the country, especially in Karachi, which was proving to be a challenge to human lives, as well as the national economy.”
Provincial authorities have imposed a partial lockdown in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, including the commercial hub of Karachi and other urban centres, amid an alarming increase in the Covid-19 cases.
The lockdown began on Saturday and is set to last until August 8, despite opposition from the federal government and the local business community.
Post a breather in June, Pakistan has seen the emergence of the fourth wave of Covid-19. There were 5,000 cases on July 31, taking the five-day average to 4,600, and the positivity rate rose to 8 per cent against 3 per cent in June.
Major cities like Karachi have reported around 30 per cent positivity rate during the last few days. Most of the new cases are that of the Delta variant. The government has re-imposed lockdowns; however, it is relatively flexible in areas with a smaller number of cases.
In general, dine-ins, plus public gatherings, have been halted (deliveries are open); markets are subject to contained operating hours (complete shutdown in red-spot areas) and offices are directed to go back to 50 per cent workforce strategy.
The sincere efforts by the government to attract its citizens towards the vaccination drive seem futile, as a large number of the population is showing resistance on one pretext, or the other.
The government has made it mandatory for the companies to get their workforce vaccinated, and also put in place a series of barriers for the unvaccinated people such as the potential blockage of mobile SIMs, inability to travel by air, non-payment of salaries, etc. Despite all such measures, the government has so far succeeded in administering just 31 million doses among the masses.
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