On the surface, Italy was one of the most well-prepared countries to tackle the virus spreading like wildfire through the world. It had an excellent healthcare system in place, was one of the first in Europe to suspend all flights from China, and had successfully isolated its first two CoronaVirus patients, both of them Chinese.
The Italian Prime Minister had taken the public in confidence the next day, and told his people not to panic: “we assure all our citizens, the situation is under control.”
And, the Italians had believed him.
That was two months ago.
By March 11, Italy had the second-highest number of cases outside China. And, as of today, Italy’s death count has surpassed China, the number currently sitting over 6,077 deaths with 63,927 cases registered all around the country.
How did the virus spread so quickly? According to most experts, it had begun circulating unsuspected in the country far before the first case was diagnosed and locked down. The virus began its trajectory in January but since a lot of symptoms are similar to flu, pneumonia, and other common diseases, most patients and doctors didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary.
For more than two months, the people of Italy carried the virus in their bodies, and passed it onto others. One by one, a whole nation came down. All because Corona is a silent poison. You can be a carrier without showing the symptoms while you pass it onto hundreds, thousands of people who might not be as lucky.
We’re not trying to create an artificial panic here. But, let’s face it. Pakistan is quietly, unassumingly, following in the footsteps of Italy.
We’re doing all the same things. Going out and clustering together at chai dhabas, the sea-view, at malls and in prayer halls, in shaadis and other gatherings.
What’s alarming? Coronavirus cases are growing at an explosive rate in Pakistan. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- On 26th February, Pakistan confirmed its first two CoronaVirus cases. The patients had been diagnosed after coming back from Taftan and were immediately put in quarantine.
- By 15th March: the number was above 50.
- 16th March: the cases had gone over 100.
- 18th March: 268 cases were recorded across the country with Sindh having the most cases, then Punjab.
- Today, as of 24th March 2020, Pakistan has over 892 cases recorded.
The numbers are doubling at a faster rate than we’re prepared for.
And, here’s why it’s going to get worse:
We Don’t Have The Resources To Handle The Outbreak
Pakistan’s abysmal and inadequate healthcare system is no secret. Especially, remote and rural areas with their lack of hospitals, doctors, medical kits and facilities.
Unlike Italy, which ranks no.2 in the world for its healthcare, we have neither the technology, nor the human labor to battle out the increasing number of cases we’re currently seeing. This means;
- We don’t have the medical kits required to test people for the virus and,
- We have no system in place to track the outbreak.
The government’s response to this has been bleak. In a press conference addressing the nation, Imran Khan, the prime minister, advised people to ‘not panic’ and ‘rest-easy’ because we cannot afford to take a hit to our economy. In addition to that, he’s recommended isolating over visiting the doctor, because right now, we don’t have a system in place for tackling the disease.
The lockdowns have been put in place, but the question now is: were they too late?
We Can’t Stop Going Out
We might not have a lot in common with the Italians when it comes to national values and culture, but when it comes to social mingling, we’re toe-to-toe with them. Pakistanis can’t seem to sit at home. Despite the government’s instructions and the advice given by all health and national experts, we’re filling Shaadi halls, chai-khaanas, sitting for paratha at dhabas, and shaking hands with every second person because of ‘ingrained manners’ and ‘religious affinity’.
Add to that, daily congregations at mosques are still going at large and a select group of molvis and religious clerics are going on about ‘don’t miss your prayer, or don’t worry about the virus because God is with you.’
Here’s what such clerics are forgetting: all through the world, all Muslim countries have advised their citizens to offer their prayers at home. Why? To stop the spread of the virus. Because in Islam, ‘the rights of people’ trump everything else. Because the welfare of your fellow beings is far more important than offering your prayer in congregation right now.
This is why the Kaaba is closed to visitors. If the Arab world can do it, why can’t we?
How to Stop the Situation From Getting Worse?
The numbers are going to get worse. Again, this isn’t a panic drill. This is about taking precautions so people don’t suffer because of us. Most youngsters and healthy adults right now are downplaying the pandemic because the fatality rates are low.
Yes, chances are, if you contract the virus, you’ll most likely survive it. That’s because your immune system is strong enough to combat and win. But, this is NOT about YOU. Social Distancing is NOT about YOU.
- It’s about the sixty-year-old father or grandfather you love so much.
- It’s about your mother with underlying conditions like diabetes or heart problems.
- It’s about your brother who just recovered from a severe illness and is still recovering his strength.
- It’s about the widow you meet at the store every day. The one who has five daughters and is the breadwinner in her family.
- It’s about the watchman whose family survives on his daily wages.
For a weak person, the virus can be both damaging and fatal. And, it’s YOUR responsibility to do everything you can to stop it from spreading further.
The Virus can be passed through many things. By touching something the infected touched, through skin contact, and respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Here are some steps you can follow to ensure your and your community’s safety:
Stay At Home
Staying at home currently is the best way to beat this pandemic. It’s the most effective way to stop the virus from spreading. Yes, it can be hard. But it’s also the need of the hour. Stay home and keep your family members inside too. If you do go out, let it be only for important chores, such as grocery, buying food and other necessary items. And, wash your hands once you’re back.
Stop ALL Social Gatherings
There’s no way to protect yourself in a public gathering. All you need is one infected person who could’ve touched a million spots. Try and avoid all social gatherings. Don’t go to weddings, birthday parties, or a hangout with your friends. Try and work from home. If your company has yet to issue a ‘work from home’ order, try and wash your hands as frequently as possible, and avoid all possible contact with others.
Stock Food If You Can
Don’t hoard, but try and stock more food than you normally do. This will allow you to stay at home for longer periods, and keep your pantry full in case an emergency of any kind breaks out.
This is also a great time to help others. People who cannot afford to ration, or are living on daily wages can use some help. Try and help as many people as you can.
Focus on Your Hygiene
Wash your hands as often as you can. Sanitizers are good for when you’re out but try and wash your hands at frequent intervals. Keep wipes for items you touch a lot: your phone, laptop, bag, and other important commodities. Take a shower, and keep a mask handy. If you can, wear gloves out in crowded places. And, don’t stand close to people who are actively coughing or sneezing.
Monitor your Symptoms
Monitoring your symptoms is really important. People with Coronavirus can show zero to mild to severe symptoms. Here are some to keep alert:
- Dry Cough
- Shortness of Breath
- Body Pains
If you witness any of these, self-isolate immediately and contact a doctor if symptoms get worse. The best way to take care of yourself during isolation is by hydrating. Drink liquids, especially water so you can urinate often, and eat healthy. Also, try and avoid physical contact with your family members and keep your home and bedroom clean.
Take Care while Exchanging Cash
Exchange of cash is a common daily ritual, completely unavoidable, and important. Keep a sanitizer handy and try and wash your hands as immediately as you can.
Wear A Mask
Precautions cannot hurt. Wear a mask in public and wash it often. The practice helps you keep safe from another person coughing or sneezing within your vicinity. Also, it contains all your respiratory particles, so if you cough or sneeze, the other person isn’t affected.
These are worrying times. But, with the right set of precautions and protective measures in place, you and your loved ones are going to be fine. Just remember this: the virus isn’t about you, it’s about protecting those people most vulnerable around us from contracting it. Stay safe, vigilant and wash your hands often!
Ashar Jamil is a Forbes Featured Entrepreneur, Advisor, Founder and CEO of Digitally Up. He has helped hundreds of businesses grow their revenue through digital marketing.