Every day the Coronavirus crisis is deteriorating in Balochistan. The first case of COVID-19 was detected in Balochistan on March 10. In less than two months, the number of cases has jumped up to almost 1,500. An overwhelming majority of the reported cases are linked to local transmission of the virus. The main reason for this spread is that the enforced lockdown in Balochistan has not been very effective.
According to the data shared by Coronavirus Cell in Balochistan, 1,495 people have been tested positive till May 5. Of these cases, 86 percent have been reported in Quetta alone. Apart from this, positive cases of the virus have been detected in 17 districts of the province. So far, 21 people have died due to this virus in Balochistan. The virus has been tested in people working in health, education, administration and media sectors.
In order to control the spread of the virus locally, the provincial government enforced a province-wise lockdown in Balochistan on March 23. Initially, this lockdown was for two weeks but the government has been extending it ever since. Now, the current phase of lockdown is supposed to end on May 19, if the government does not extend it further.
Approximately 361,000 people have lost their jobs in the province in the last two months
Balochistan has entered its eighth week of the lockdown. But since day one the lockdown was not very effective. The government had ordered to close down all shops, markets, and establishments with the exception of essential services. All forms of public transport were also suspended in the province. However, private vehicles of citizens were allowed movement.
These steps taken by the government could not control the movement and gathering of the people in Quetta city. Every day there are traffic jams in the city despite the implementation of lockdown. People can be seen gathering outside open establishments of essential services. There is complete disregard of social distancing protocols and people are treating the situation as business as usual.
In fact, many shops that should have closed in the lockdown are operating in broad daylight. Shops selling clothes, tailors, barbers, and others are operating with their doors closed. The government has sealed shops of a few of these violators but still, this has not deterred people from defying the lockdown.
There is complete chaos and a visit to the centre of Quetta city paints a very grim picture of the failure of the lockdown in Balochistan.
While the lockdown has failed to control movement and gathering of people in Quetta, it has nevertheless severely impacted the livelihood of the under-privileged class of the society. According to a working paper submitted to the provincial cabinet by Planning and Development department, approximately 361,000 people have lost their jobs in the province in the last two months. The same working paper predicts that if the lockdown continues for another two months or five months, then 732,000 and 942,000 people will lose their source of livelihoods respectively.
The aforementioned figures paint a very bleak picture of how the lockdowns have affected the under-privileged sections of the society while failing to control the spread of Coronavirus. The federal government has started one-time cash transfers under the Ehsaas Program to help such people. However, the amount of cash paid and the number of beneficiaries covered are negligible in the context of the number of people affected by this crisis.
The failure of lockdown in Balochistan can be attributed to two factors. First, the failure of the government to effectively implement the lockdown. When the government issued for the lockdown, it could not implement it in letter and spirit. It is quite difficult to implement any such plan without the cooperation of the people. Still the government had not done its homework on how to deal with such a scenario. The government seemed to be helpless and clueless on how to tackle the movement of people despite the enforcement of the lockdown.
Second, people of the province in general and Quetta in particular also did not cooperate with the government. People never took the lockdown seriously and did not control their movements, which was expected from them. Citizens’ lack of cooperation can further be attributed to two factors. First was that they had to go out of their homes for their livelihoods and buy groceries and other items of daily use. Secondly, a good portion of people still does not believe that Coronavirus is real and think that it is just a myth. This misguided notion has further encouraged people not to take the lockdown seriously and live their lives as if its business as usual.
Moreover, the government has also failed to educate people about the gravity of the situation. Government and several other organizations are spending a fortune on educating people about this virus but they have failed to effectively do this. This is evident from the fact that a large segment of society still believes in the conspiracy theory that Coronavirus does not exist in Balochistan and the government is exaggerating the positive cases to get funds. Unfortunately, there has not been any concerted effort by the government of Balochistan to rebut such wild conspiracy theories.
People are already fed-up with the lockdown in Balochistan and want the government not to extend it beyond May 19. However, this would be a flawed decision if the government caved into the pressure. According to experts, Coronavirus will reach its peak till mid-June and if lockdown is ended prior to that then it will be suicidal for the population. Therefore, the provincial government must not only improve the enforcement of lockdown but also make decisions about its extension based on experts’ advice and not public pressure.
The writer is a journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir