A People’s Response to Coronavirus in Pakistan

The Plan

A People’s Emergency Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic in Pakistan


The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world and Pakistan into a state of social, political and economic crisis the likes of which the world has not seen in decades. The prospect of worldwide infections, mass deaths, mass unemployment and global economic breakdown is now increasingly likely as world leaders scramble to contain the virus. Many states and societies, fooled by rumours of the ‘low’ mortality rate of the virus (of ‘just’ 2-3%) failed to act in time – not knowing that this was one of the most infectious viruses ever discovered, which quickly and exponentially spreads across vast tracts of the population in mere weeks, with mass casualties the inevitable outcome.

Pakistan needs an emergency plan to fight this pandemic before it is too late. The Awami Workers Party has outlined below an emergency plan, including containment public health measures and economic measures for the federal and provincial governments to cooperatively implement that we think offer our best chance of limiting the damage.

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(a) Immediate Containment Measures

1. Declare emergency

Declare a national public health emergency across the country and establish an emergency relief fund for the crisis (see details in economic measures below).

2. Ban public gatherings

Immediately enforce, with the full backing of the state, the ban on all public gatherings, from weddings, to public meetings and protests, to sports, to festivals, to shrines, to congregational prayer across the country.

3. Suspend congregational prayers

Follow the Prophet (PBUH)’s Sunnah (now being implemented in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Morocco, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries) to avoid going out in times of plague and temporarily close congregational prayer. As per the Prophet’s example during even difficult weather conditions, during Azaan, get Muezzins to call on people to ‘Al-salatu fi rihalikum’ (pray at home) instead of “Haya ala Salah” (come to prayer).

4. Test 10,000 people daily

Evidence from South Korea and other countries has demonstrated that mass testing is critical to contain the virus (as WHO has increasingly called for). Expand covid-19 testing capacity to 10,000 tests/day, ensure free testing in public and private hospitals and health facilities across the country, and focus on testing and isolating young people to protect the elderly and vulnerable.

5. Mass awareness campaign

Defeating coronavirus will require large scale changes in behavior patterns. Immediately begin mass public awareness and behavioral change communication on covid-19 dangers and prevention that induce both patterns of physical distancing and an ethic of social solidarity to protect the most vulnerable and the worse off. Ensure messaging in regional languages, with daily transmissions on public and private media networks as well as loudspeaker outreach campaigns in neighbourhoods, especially katchi abadis.

6. Limit inter-provincial travel

Limit non-essential travel between provinces, to the country from outside and enforce total social distancing, including through a lockdown if necessary. If we do not do this, our healthcare system will get overwhelmed in one or two weeks and it could cause untold suffering.

7. Ensure transparency

Ensure complete transparency, regular data sharing by government and free flow of information on both mainstream and social media to ensure the population and key decision-makers have the knowledge required to protect themselves and the public.

8. Ensure facilities for Taftan pilgrims

The bulk of Pakistan’s cases thus far are from the returning Iran pilgrims who were stationed in Taftan. We must ensure sufficient resources, personnel and high quality quarantine and isolation facilities for Taftan pilgrims stationed in Sukkur, DG Khan, DI Khan, Quetta, and elsewhere.

9. Take control of private hospitals

Public hospital capacity will soon be overwhelmed – we must legislate to mandate public control over and free treatment of coronavirus patients in all private hospitals, subsidized by federal and provincial governments, to ensure healthcare demands of the public can be met during the state of emergency, without regard to income and wealth.

10. Supplement health worker salaries by 50%

Health workers – doctors, nurses, paramedics, & community workers – will be the frontline soldiers of this battle. We must regularize all health workers and boost their salaries by at least 50% and ensure, on a war footing, immediate provision of sufficient personal protective equipment, including N95 face masks, for all medical personnel across the country.

11. Recruit retired health workers

Take emergency measures to recruit more healthcare workers including retired doctors, nurses, paramedics and community health workers.

12. Mass disinfection campaign

Initiate mass disinfection campaigns in all cities, particularly public spaces and public transport, as has been done in China.

13. Expand hospital capacity

Wartime effort to expand hospital capacity and build more hospitals to deal with the fallout.

14. Boost production of medical equipment

In partnership with state organizations & private sector, divert/reorient existing manufacturing productive capacities to protective equipment, hazmat suits, masks & soap/sanitizer production, while increasing ventilator imports and expanding ICU capacity across the country.

15. Appeal to allies for support

Appeal to global allies in the developed world such as Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia, USA as well as neighboring countries to provide protective equipment and technology on a humanitarian basis.

16. Training for medical staff

Immediate support for rapid medical staff training, surveillance tools for contact tracing, and formation of rapid response teams.

17. Labs for speedy testing

Immediately build the number and capacity of national, provincial and mobile diagnostic laboratories to rapidly process test results.

18. Conditional prisoner release

Jails are notorious incubators and amplifiers of infectious diseases. Pakistan could spare itself disaster through conditional releases of a majority of its prisoners (with key exceptions that can be quarantined), for the period of the emergency.

19. Convert schools to isolation wards

Convert educational institutions, hotels, hostels, dental hospitals into quarantine and isolation wards in all provinces to supplement limited hospital capacity.

20. Expand telemedicine

Expand technological platforms & resource allocations for telemedicine to enable access to and delivery of medical services to those who can’t leave their homes.

21. Cooperation with SAARC

The crisis has a clear regional & spatial dimension. We must pursue & increase regional cooperation for equipment, surveillance, information gathering and medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic among SAARC countries.

22. Make use of military hospitals and staff

The military's offer to support the govt's coronavirus health response should be fully taken up. Utilize military hospitals, medical personnel and equipment for #covid19 treatment and isolation wards for all patients, both civilian & military.

23. Import key medicines

Immediate measures for import (& where possible, domestic production) of key medicines including remdesivir (US), favipiravir (Japan), interferon alpha 2b (Cuba), anti-malarials like chloroquine, intravenous Vitamin C, and immune suppressants like baracitinib, anakrina and actemra.

(b) Immediate Economic Measures

1. Emergency public relief fund

Establishment of a Rs. 200 bn emergency public relief fund for the coronavirus crisis, with budgetary contributions from federal and provincial governments, repurposing of the dam fund, as well as non-productive expenditure from the defence budget, other line departments and contributions from large private businesses. Money can be borrowed as well, as IMF has already said it will not count coronavirus funds in budget deficit.

2. Raise taxes on super rich

For the health emergency period, impose a 70% marginal tax on income above Rs. 10 million, (rates which have been employed by past governments around the world in previous times of crisis) and a 35% wealth tax on assets over Rs. 100 million and 20% land value tax on large landholdings.

3. Diversion of productive resources

Temporarily divert local production capacity from non-essential production – such as luxury goods – to essential items including protective equipment, hospital beds, soaps, equipment and essential household commodities.

4. Workers' support fund

Millions of workers will be affected by this crisis. A workers’ support fund must be established – possibly through expansion of BISP - to provide direct income support payments to workers affected by the shutdown. A coordination system/mechanism in this regard must be devised to ensure leakages and double dipping can be prevented; This should be highly coordinated between other agencies and provincial govts.

5. Close non-essential workplaces

Prevent physical attendance at workplaces as widely as possible, other than absolutely essential services and production places, for a period of at least 3 weeks.

6. Urgent action to secure katchi abadis

Katchi abadis with their high density, poor sanitation, water shortages, and proximity to sewage could become death traps and flash points for coronavirus expansion. There needs to be immediate suspension of all evictions in katchi abadis, urgent regularization and proprietary rights for all low-income settlements and immediate measures to ensure sanitation and clean water provision in abadis and low-income neighbourhoods.

7. Suspend utility bills

Suspension of utility bills payments for a period of at least two months for working and middle class income brackets. Revise energy agreements for IPPs and LNG to ensure uninterrupted energy supply in this period without hurting poor consumers.

8. Act against hoarders

Immediate measures to guard against price gouging & monopolization of all essential items, particularly medicine, food, sanitizers, masks and medical equipment.

9. Cut taxes on essential items

Emergency measures to reduce GST on essential food items and emergency food relief provision to all low-income families. Counter burden on federal and provincial reserves via increased GST on luxury items and land taxes.

10. Support for home schooling

With help of private sector, media & civil society, establish and expand avenues and platforms for technology-assisted home schooling, to minimize the educational loss to children & productively engage teachers while schools are closed.

11. Recruit volunteers

Initiate federal and provincial volunteer programs aimed at recruitment of young, able-bodied citizens to perform essential productive and distributive tasks required in the current emergency scenario whilst the vulnerable are restricted indoors.

12. Cut interest rates by 400bps

The recent State Bank interest rate cut was woefully inadequate & ignores global depression risks. There must be a reduction in interest rates by at least 400bps to mitigate recessionary pressures, support businesses & inject liquidity into the economy.

13. Negotiate debt relief from donors

Immediately negotiate with IMF and bilateral donors for large scale debt relief & restructuring to assuage the financial burden, whilst ensuring leeway on stipulations on subsidy packages for fighting the crisis in Pakistan.

14. Support for small businesses

Along with an urgent interest rate cut, the State Bank must enable the urgent creation of progressive lending instruments by banks to ensure expansion of affordable credit for SMEs & other businesses to keep them afloat in the crisis period.

15. Utilise "Dam Fund"

Re-purpose the “Dam Fund” initiated by the former CJP Saqib Nisar in light of the current pandemic to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund for a variety of expenditures from direct income support payments to acquisition of medical equipment such as ventilators.


Latest Updates

News, updates and press releases

AWP Petitions Supreme Court for National Health Emergency

"The petitioners contend that even at this early stage of the pandemic, the current federal and provincial governments have failed miserably and in fact, governments’ current policies, ignorance of the gravity of the situation and inaction would only further accelerate this issue.

AWP's Ammar Rashid on Dawn News

Health policy researcher and AWP Punjab President Ammar Rashid spoke about the risks of the spread of COVID-19 and why a lockdown and universal basic income program is necessary to stop the virus on Dawn News' Zara Hat Kay show on Friday


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