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Continued from Previous……
Government of Punjab also clamped a lock down saying that it is not a lockdown. Today was the first day of its implementation. On the way to office in the morning, traffic was quite thin. There were many bikes though, some carrying families also. Some people were carrying bags and suitcases and must be trying to go back to their hometowns. Due to transport closure, how they would manage to travel, is any body’s guess. On the way back via Ring Road, I saw at two places that a large number of people had gathered and were playing cricket as several teams. In our office, we took decisions about Work From Home, Flexible hours and selective absences etc.
Following challenges may be seen right away.
- People Awareness and Realization – As mentioned above, a large number of people are still not aware about the problem fully. They may be feeling that it is becoming serious, but this realization has not finally settled in. We still tend to think it is either not so serious, or it is someone else’s problem; not mine. It may not be blamed entirely on the public. The way the situation has been handled by the government and its institutions would have led to this state anyway. Lack of literacy is not just lack of education; it is also lack of understanding of basic facts. In this situation, the public campaigns must be direct, simple and clear. We are used to making wordy statements in thick Urdu, the impact of which is lost on most people. ‘Dauran e driving mobile phone ke istemal se ijtinab karain’ is written on Motorway and many other roads. Why couldn’t it be said ‘Driving kartay huay mobile phone istemal na karain’? It may prove a little more effective. Now that Corona has reached here, this debate is irrelevant. However, public education must be done repeatedly, strongly and directly. The other issue is that even if the public gets suitably scared, how should they protect themselves. Instructions about this must go beyond handwashing and sneezing in elbow. Many workplaces have closed, while others have restricted presence. It is high time that voluntary lockdown at homes, zero socializing, and emergency only movement is promoted aggressively. Lastly, the money being wasted on advertising government efficiency should be spent on public safety campaigns.
- Correcting the Disconnect between Open and Closed Services – Government has ordered total closure of most services and have kept others open. However, due to disconnect, the anticipated results will not come. This can be seen from the following examples.
- Pharmacies are Open – the retail pharmacies represent the end of the chain. Pharmacies are fed by the distributors who in turn are fed by the manufacturers. A small portion is also fed by the wholesale market in big cities. The problem is that the number of drugs has risen rapidly in the last few years. Despite effort, no pharmacy can keep enough stock to last a few weeks. For this reason, they receive supplies every other day, and every day in more busy places. Even in this short time, if they have an urgent need, they rush someone to wholesale market. In reality, the wholesale market is closed, and distributors cannot make enough supplies because their staff was unable to reach due to public transport closure. Distributors will not get further supplies because carrier services including couriers are not committing to deliver stocks from manufacturers. Government’s intent to keep pharmacies open is taken in good faith but it will not yield desired results. Drug shortages will come soon due to disconnect in the chain, though the Pharmacies shall remain open.
- Pharma Manufacturers are Open – The port is also working, but the transport from Karachi to up north is closed. Even if a material is released from the port, it will remain stuck in Karachi. Over 90% of imported Pharmaceutical materials are shipped by air due to their sensitive nature and these cannot be moved due to flights closure. The Pharma Industry was already under huge pressure of material shortages. China was closed in. routine on account of Lunar Year holidays in February, which got extended due to Corona. The shipments finally started few days ago and are held back again due to flights closure. India is the second large supplier and they put down restriction on export of several raw materials, ostensibly to avoid shortage in their own country. China supplies intermediates to India; therefore, their material production has suffered. Packaging materials are short because printing presses and paper market are not working. Staff shortage is a factor here also. Such are the intricacies of supply chain in these times. Talking about next stage, the pharma companies can produce drugs from whatever materials they have in inventory. Staff shortage is hurting here as well. After the drugs are produced, the shipments are not possible because no carrier is taking it. The bottom line is that the end-to-end supply chain of medicines is disconnected at several places and shortages are simply imminent, though the Pharma Manufacturers shall remain open.
- Food Places are Open – small, street-side cafes have been closed. Restaurants are open for take away and delivery. The masses eat from small places due to cost reasons and they cannot afford to eat from proper restaurants. The masses shall not be able to eat outside though the food places shall remain open.
- Handling of Positive Cases – it is still a grey area. Will the police come and take away the positive person along with family and quarantine them somewhere? How many they will be able to quarantine? Where will they bring space to accommodate positive cases? Who will take care of them? Give them food? Give them medicines? These and other related questions are unanswered.
- Economic Fallout – the fallout is expected in several forms and areas. We shall keep monitoring and discussing. For now, it looks clear that aggressive growth plans of major Pharma companies shall be hit, and the shortfall will not be compensated due to a full spectrum of factors. This will stall people growth, increase stress, and increase turnover.
This list can be further expanded but it is not necessary; the point is made.
These are complex, interconnected and interdependent issues. There are no simple, straightforward or easy solutions. Criticism on government or anyone else is not intended; it will not bring any positive result. Government must, however, collaborate closely with all stakeholders to work out better solutions. For once, the entrepreneurs are also advised to rise above considerations of shortsighted profits and tackle real, bigger challenges.