Pakistan risks “sleep walking” into a coronavirus catastrophe where death tolls reach levels seen in the West and perilously under-resourced hospitals are pushed to the brink, an opposition leader said on Monday (13).
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s first female leader Benazir Bhutto, said the country’s response to the pandemic so far had been characterised by federal foot-dragging over a comprehensive lockdown and an unwillingness to divert cash to the buckling health care system.
Pakistan so far has recorded 93 deaths from a total of 5,230 cases, but experts worry the impoverished country of 215 million people — many of whom live in cramped, multi-generational households — is only at the start of the coronavirus curve.
“There is definitely a false sense of security that we’ve seen from the start of this crisis,” Bhutto said in a video call from his Karachi office.
“We have seen a desire to ignore science and facts and the examples of what has been happening around us internationally, which has hampered us taking the timely and necessary action.”
Prime minister Imran Khan has faced particular criticism after saying Pakistan could not afford a country-wide lockdown, citing the economic damage that would be unleashed.
Pakistan now has a de facto lockdown after provinces acted independently to shutter schools and companies, but officials are under pressure to loosen restrictions as the economy suffers.
Pakistan’s first COVID-19 cases were reported in the southern province of Sindh, governed by Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), with officials there ordering a lockdown last month.
Bhutto said provincial health advisors, academics and experts had recommended tougher measures across Pakistan.
“We can bring the economy back to life, but we cannot bring people back to life,” he said.
“If we just hope for the best and don’t prepare for the worst… then Pakistan is sleep walking into a disastrous situation and I genuinely fear for the consequences.”
Bhutto said the situation in Pakistan could be worse than the US or western Europe given the country’s shortage of protective gear for medical staff, a lack of critical care beds and other problems with the underfunded health care system.
The PPP was founded by Bhutto’s grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His mother Benazir became prime minister twice and was running a third time when she was killed in a gun and bomb attack on December 27, 2007.
For years Bhutto, 31, faced harsh criticism for his spotty grasp of the Urdu language and was lambasted for benefiting from dynastic politics.
But he has become one of the opposition’s most recognisable faces — known for his cool demeanour and lack of vitriol in what is traditionally a bare-knuckle political scene.