“Lockdown or Not to Lockdown – That Is The Question”

(Further Harangues of a Layman [COVID]- 3)

(photo credit- webmd.com)

May 30, 2020

(This is a long article)

Since my last “diatribe” on this topic (https://dinshawavari.com/2020/04/19/imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery-further-ramblings-of-a-layman-covid-2/), we have opened a lot of our lockdown sectors, retail outlets, business, etc. 

Now comes the question- has lockdown helped or not.

Personally I believe that lockdown was an important strategy at the outset of this pandemic- however, it should have been all encompassing and stricter.  Our businesses have been closed for last two months instead of 2-3 weeks – and that is due to a “hybrid” system instead of “total” lockdown.

However, dynamics have changed.  Two months without income cannot sustain any economic band of society- it’s just not possible.  Giving credit where it’s due – to the State Bank and the Federal Government for supporting companies and businesses – is important but it isn’t enough for someone to feed 4-5 mouths on a daily basis in a population of 250 Million!

(1) Part of the problem lies in partisan politics. 

Australia, with its diverse political structure and strong provincial autonomy, banded together like no other in this crisis.  Partisan politics were set aside for a country-specific policy.  Consensus-based decision making was the norm.  The PM and the coordination committee with representatives of all provinces made JOINT decisions.  This is not so in Pakistan!

(2) As long as citizens of a country do not cooperate with the government, no amount of the “stick” or “carrot” will work.  The administration can beat their head against the wall creating SOPs but if in our own heart we don’t follow them, then it’s as good as a failed policy.

Sweden’s “partial lockdown” system worked due to the Swedish people’s sense of responsibility in social distancing.  They took it upon themselves to ensure they followed the government’s policies in return for a more open society.  This is not so in Pakistan!

(3) Successful countries have followed the advice of scientists and doctors.  Government policies, politics, [maybe] some personal freedoms have been set aside to listen to, and implement, actions recommended by “virus experts”.

Here again, Australia, Korea, New Zealand, etc followed what experts in this field advised them.  It may have run contrary to their own thinking or policy but they listened to people who knew what they were talking about.  This is not so in Pakistan! 

(4) I do not support pollution or lack of hygiene & sanitation!  However, can a fair case be made that in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, while there is a high Corona Virus count, the death rate [to overall COVID cases] ratio is not as high as in the developed world?  Why?

Let’s look it like this- the pollution, smog, vehicular emissions, sewerage, slums, lack of sanitation, etc in the general populace is the “norm” unfortunately; food is prepared over open sewages; generations are born and die in slums in the center of our cities; 50% of the population drink polluted tap water directly; flies are our regular lunch & dinner dates; mosquitos thrive on our blood … whose immunity will NOT be built?  These are the living standards in Pakistan!  However, this should not be the case in Pakistan!

All these factors and more – cash economy, daily wagers, population density, public transport, education levels, etc – play their share on a macro basis in determining whether to lockdown a country or not.  We lack in so many of these areas that I do not believe Pakistan can afford to lockdown the country further. 

Smarter policing is required – political partisanship has to be shunned – geographical and economic aspects should be accounted for – and based on these aspects an all-inclusive, sustained policy be devised.

Can Pakistan please band together!?

(photo credit- sciencemag.com)

A Case for … Not Working from Home!

May 20, 2020

Yawn … Yawwn … YAWWNNNN

It’s almost two months for our lockdown in Pakistan and working from home.

The first month went well, working from home I mean.

Started waking up at 7am, instead of 6

You find the time to exercise more

                              Lounge in your shorts and socks

                                             No shirt, just your vest (in my case, Sadrah)

                                                            Come 5pm, put on your shirt and shoes (stay in your socks) and sit in the garden

                      It’s fine as long as you keep working, keep at it, stay busy!

But now, now, now …. YAWNNNNNN ….

(Photo Credit- thelabradorsite.com)

               (forgot what I was thinking!)

Oh yes, I’VE TURNED LAZY!

Today, as I write these words, I realize that working from home is NOT AN OPTION.  There is no such successful concept as “an office at home”.  The novelty wears away.  So does one’s creativity.  Office interaction.  Office dynamics.

Actually, now to think of it, it felt good going to office – sometimes even being first to open the doors – sticking to a ROUTINE.  You then actually enjoy your weekends at home more. 

Go figure

No Two States are “Cut From The Same Cloth”- (Yet More Ramblings of a Layman [COVID]-3)

May 2, 2020

To arbitrarily attack the World Health Organization that it “flip flops” is unfair. 

As WHO puts it- “What it has done differently is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry and the ability and willingness of its citizens to implement self-distancing and self-regulate” (https://nypost.com/2020/04/29/who-lauds-sweden-as-model-for-resisting-coronavirus-lockdown/).   Besides this, Sweden has issued rules for social distancing and encouraging working from home- they haven’t arbitrarily opened up their society.

While that strategy seems to work for Sweden, Australia & New Zealand’s strategy of lockdown has worked for them (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/world/australia/new-zealand-coronavirus.html).

So, WHO’s statement on Sweden’s strategy should not be taken out of context.

Practically speaking, none of us alive today have EVER faced a pandemic like this in our lifetime.  Nations, leaders, scientists are all feeling the waters, testing strategies, changing guidelines…there’s nothing wrong with that.  None of us will get it right.  We will falter and that’s where our leaders & scientists have to learn, amend strategies and move on.

Philosophically speaking, I believe we are being tested so that we are ready for the real disease yet to come!

Even the most educated of us do not follow guidelines and rules laid out by our governments, so how can we be trusted (unlike the Swedes) to follow protocols a government would lay down similar to Sweden’s? 

The concept of “Herd Immunity” (first time I ever heard of it!) is a practical one- and I truly believe that countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh are ahead of the game as far as this immunity is concerned due to the environment our people live in.  However, like all strategies, in my mind, it would be incorrect to practice herd immunity willy-nilly.  WHO is also learning through this pandemic and it’s a thankless task with 7 Billion eyes on them, so let’s not be too hasty in passing judgement.  A combination of face mask, social distancing, contact tracing & “smart”, geographic lockdown is the correct way to go.

Who are we not to give WHO a chance!?

“Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery” (Further Ramblings of a Layman [COVID]- 2)

April 19, 2020

Well, we are in a Pandemic and it’s not really about “flattery”- it’s more about …

COPY WHAT SEEMS TO WORK from past and current experiences, regardless of personal or political conflict, geographical boundaries or religion!

So, what seems to be working?

  1. Mitigation strategies-
    1. Scale up COVID tests & diagnosis- doing large number of lab diagnoses allow authorities to slow the spread of the infection by isolating known cases while they are infectious, enabling treatment to be administered at a far earlier stage
    1. Increase easily available, random & free testing
    1. “Test and trace for the high-at-risk groups”, which means increasing the manufacture of local test kits
    1. Continue to maintain social distancing
    1. Limit contact with older people, they being more susceptible to the Virus
    1. Two types of testing is required-
      1. Serology tests- which will identify infected patients with antibodies (this will help determine who is immune and help people get back to normal life)
      1. Rapid-antigen test- to diagnose those who carry the virus (without or with minimal symptoms)
  2. Open testing & drive-through centers in each of Karachi’s – as an example – 178 Union Councils to screen as many people, as quickly, as possible.  All tests would be recorded through their CNICs, immediately tested with temperature scan and throat swab.  People who may have interacted with an infected patient should report to testing centers for checking.
  3. “R-0” (R-naught) is the number of new infections an infected person passes on.  Only when R0 is less than 1 will the pandemic start reducing.  So, all mitigation strategies should continue “one month after you drive down the R-naught to zero”.
  4. Increase LOCAL supply chains so as to provide protective gear, supplies & equipment to front line health workers & hospitals; and going hand-in-hand, continuous monitoring and protection of all medical and other essential workers.
  5. Contact Tracing- tracking travel history & all movements of every COVID patient so as to find & test every person in contact with the patient.  This will identify transmission networks and preempt possible further carriers.
  6. Use of Modern Technology & Communications-
    1. *An accurate communication system that disseminates the movements of potentially infected people, in which geographical areas, etc.  There should be ONE SOURCE of this information and all you need to do is push it out to each of the Telco carriers in the City for onwards distribution to the public.  This will enable less contact between possible affected and those not. 
    2. My brother’s suggestion was to use “easy-paisa” & other such portals to disseminate the Federal & Provincial funds to the needy & poor instead of cash payouts.  With almost 80% mobile subscribers in Pakistan, majority of the recipients will be documented, leading to less fraud.

A macro shift is needed from a patient-centered model to community-system care that offers pandemic solutions for the entire population (with a specific emphasis on home care).  As mentioned in my earlier article (https://dinshawavari.com/2020/04/07/a-laymans-thoughts-on-mitigation-strategies-covid/), self-quarantine & home care should not be discounted- it will relieve the strain on hospitals & health workers.

As before, the views in this Paper are personal, from a series of publications I recently studied-

A Layman’s Thoughts on Mitigation Strategies [COVID]

April 7, 2020

(This is a long article)

Pakistan does not have the resources to sustain a lengthy closure yet we can’t all come out “dancing on the streets”.

However, I feel a four-pronged action is now the order of the day- continue with Coronavirus mitigation, restart limited commerce getting people back to work, the Government works on helping affected companies and uses funds to aid the unemployed (through registered NGOs).

The views in this Paper are personal and formed with a combination of thoughts from family members, inhouse executives and a series of publications on incentives being created by European governments on COVID-19 mitigation (some bibliography at the end).

COVID MITIGATION

  1. Government contracts local, reputed medical manufacturers to urgently manufacture N-95 masks for entire population.
  2. Isolate areas of city/towns where virus is dense and lock off those areas.
  3. Increase random testing.
  4. All “at-risk” people (demographics by age, prior respiratory problems like pneumonia, heart victims, etc) to mandatorily stay at home.
  5. Guarantee access to COVID testing & care at no cost – no matter a person’s employment status
  6. Make it mandatory for populace wear the N-95 facemasks when out of the house, with stiff, on-the-spot penalties for contravention.
  7. Any COVID family member to be isolated – for mental satisfaction, can stay in their own house but with completely separate facilities, etc otherwise to go to govt mandated facility.  If former, then no contact between family members.
  8. Affected people must inform authorities of their condition, whereabouts – and authorities will keep check on them
  9. Sanitize & disinfect all public areas (be it transport, bus stops, hand rails, etc)
  10. Ensure supply on controlled prices of essential commodities, food items & medicines through utility stores & other channels; and ensure hoarding and price gouging does not take place.
  11. Pass on more benefit of int’l oil price reduction to public while government retains a portion to be used for the poor, daily wagers and unemployed during this crisis
  12. Duty free import for items NOT being locally manufactured- especially medical supplies.

RESTART COMMERCE

  1. Restart industrial activity –
    1. However, only those companies registered with the SECP and Federal &/or provincial revenue boards AND are regular tax assessees would be allowed this facility.
    1. Only those companies NOT directly in contagion areas/zones.
  2. Responsibility of company directors/owners –
    1. Companies to ensure their employees are kept on the payroll- even if on [paid] leave – from the time of COVID downturn.
    1. All normal staff benefits (especially health) to continue.
    1. Daily wagers who are part of company operations would also continue as if no crisis had continued, even if the work for which they were casually employed has finished.
    1. Worker conditions, hygiene & sanitation as per COVID guidelines.
    1. Where possible, these companies to have labour stay on premises to reduce contact with outside world.
    1. ALL workers to wear masks, disposable gloves & use hand sanitizer in their work areas.
    1. When leaving work areas, dispose gloves, use hand sanitizer but keep wearing mask.
    1. Food shifts to be ensured to have minimal people together for meals
    1. All utensils to be cleaned with WHO-recommended cleaners- all surfaces, chairs, etc between food shifts too
    1. All work places, machines, toilets, etc to be regularly sanitized & disinfected.
    1. Temperature reading 3 times for 100% of staff in each shift.
    1. Immediately isolation & care of sick workers.
  3. Public space access – eg malls, offices, hotels, restaurants, etc- hands to be sanitized and guests to be given disposable gloves & face masks.
  4. Resume delivery services with delivery person using gloves & mask; and sanitizing the delivered items in front of recipient before handing it over.

GOV’T BAILOUT OF COMPANIES

By doing the below actions, Gov’t will help companies absorb the costs and shocks of this crisis, yet not give direct cash injection, keep people employed (even if at home) and restart economic activity.

  1. In return Gov’t will assist such companies subsidize their operations & costs from beginning February 2020 to end August 2020.
    1. In the first phase, would only apply to those companies which are directly affected by this crisis resulting in over 70% of their income being affected- and can be proved and established with documentation.
    1. Would only apply to companies registered with the SECP and Federal &/or provincial revenue boards AND are regular tax assessees.
    1. Any misuse & contravention of this bailout by companies would be a criminal action under CrPC.
    1. Specified registered private audit firms would audit revenue-side of each company applying for this bailout prior to bailout facilities.
  2. Following are the bailout suggestions-
    1. Exemption from all statutory taxes, duties & fees (federal, provincial, excise, vend).
    1. Exemption from all labour-related taxes, fees & cess.
    1. Exemption from Provident fund contribution from both parties.
    1. Exemption on all TAXES on UTILITIES for period of shutdown (and all such billing on actual-reading basis and not average-basis).
    1. Heavily subsidized utility costs- electricity, gas, water & sewerage.
    1. Drastic reduction in markup rates by slashing KIBOR to 2%.
    1. Exemption from sales tax.  If full exemption cannot be given, exempt period of COVID crisis and defer the payment of sales for the balance period.
    1. Lifting of restrictions on Input Tax claims.
    1. Defer the payments of supplier & employee withholding taxes.
    1. Defer the payment of Advance Tax.
    1. Easy loans to such companies – for which SBP regulations will not apply and repayment will be over 10 years, with a two-year moratorium.
    1. Moratorium for existing commercial loans on such companies by one year.

AID THE UNEMPLOYED

By working with & through registered NGOs, the government can use cash incentives directly for other affected workers directly, the underprivileged & families who are not covered by above companies.

  1. Food rations to poor people and out of work families to be conducted by & through REGISTERED NGOs only- like Rotary clubs, etc. 
    1. Government will provide the food rations to said NGOs but distribution will be NGOs responsibility.
      1. This will ensure that food is fairly and honestly distributed. 
      1. Each NGO can be responsible for a certain geographic area and monitor/record said people through their CNIC. 
      1. Such data to be provided by NGOs to provincial gov’t who in turn will cross check it with NADRA database.
    1. This will be the starting point for the creation of an official unemployment database too.

The above will ensure government resources and personnel are better redirected to controlling & curing actual COVID cases in known contagion areas.

“…and people who keep their jobs ‘are less unhappy and shocked [..]

They are less likely to dramatically cut their consumption.

That limits the overall economic damage.  

When social distancing ends, millions of employer-employee

relationships will have been destroyed,

slowing down the recovery [..].

(REFERENCES-

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/business/france-coronavirus-unemployment.html

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/opinion/coronavirus-economy-saez-zucman.html

“WHATEVER HAPPENS, HAPPENS FOR THE BEST”

April 2, 2020

Life is all about experiences and based on those experiences, over time, your outlook towards life and the world forms & changes.

Likewise, I too have become more philosophical, definitely more religious and have come to sincerely believe in (& follow) a saying we learnt from my father–

Whatever happens, happens for the best;

Whatever happens, happens the way God wants it to

   because that’s the best way

So when my sailing friends, Bill & Kate Gover invited me to cruise with them on ‘SY SENETO’ around the world (https://billkatesail.wordpress.com/), I jumped at this opportunity for their Pacific leg.  About four weeks – a leisurely cruise – interspersed with squalls (and calm) – but nothing grueling like it would have been in a Clipper or Fastnet race.

My wife Dinaz did – and my family would’ve – supported this 100%, as they have my other whims and fancies.  Then I remembered my mother-in-law lives with us since 2017, when she had her stroke; and while Dinaz primarily takes care of her, I too help out where I can- especially moral & physical support to Dinaz.  So, it really wouldn’t be right or fair for me to go gallivanting the oceans while my wife solely supported her mom.  Hence my deep regrets to Bill & Kate.

No one knew COVID-19 would hit the WORLD just four months into their ‘adventure of a lifetime’!  Had I gone on the sail, not only would I probably have been stuck in some port; there would have been no flights back; I wouldn’t be with my family; and they and I would be worried for each other while the Coronavirus engulfed the Country (just as Bill & Kate must be currently for their family and vice-versa as they sail the Pacific).

So here’s the punch- while regretting the voyage was the right thing to do, in hindsight I now believe I was never meant to go as it never had been on the cards for me … “whatever happens, happens for the best”!

Likewise, the pandemic we are facing now is happening for a reason and if mankind can just learn and evolve from this experience, we will be the better from it.

WHERE ARE WE HEADING

March 26, 2020

(source- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_armed_conflicts)

Insurgencies, ethnic violence, civil wars, conflicts and over 200,000 deaths in 2019 alone!

  • Afghanistan conflict
  • Yemen crisis
  • Syrian civil war
  • Kurd conflict
  • Iraq conflict
  • Libyan conflict
  • Kashmir conflict
  • Palestinian conflict

(source- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_armed_conflicts)

This list doesn’t even touch on intra-country “insurgencies”!

…and now a virus pandemic…

My personal belief is that with the current Coronavirus trajectory, COVID19 has the potential to overshadow all these world conflicts & flashpoints with fatalities.

So, what’s going on? 

  • Is “nature” correcting this Century’s rife?
  • Is this a wake-up call to live within the resources that Earth has given us – not to destroy it?
  • Maybe this is meant to teach us forgiveness & humility towards fellow man – not hubris & greed?
  • Should we encourage education & knowledge for the betterment of mankind – not child labor?
  • If science is to lead the path for a better tomorrow, wouldn’t it be better to do it collaboratively and collectively – rather than conflict & strife?
  • Wasn’t religion meant for our salvation & give a purpose to life – not as a means to power?
  • Maybe the world needs to concentrate on “small government” to help citizens – not big business?  (also refer- https://dinshawavari.com/2019/06/14/what-does-a-government-do-for-us-%f0%9f%a4%94/)
  • Is this pandemic a test to measure the level of universal aid & collaboration – or politics getting the better of humanity?

…OR, maybe the answer is ALL OF THE ABOVE???