The history cites many incidents when humans had faced and survived various pandemics including the outbreaks of plague, smallpox, cholera, flu, yellow fever and HIV/AIDS. However, the speediness and scale of COVID-19 differentiate it from the past pandemics. The political scientists are envisaging that COVID-19 will contribute to significant changes in the international political landscape. The key predictions include the containment of neoliberal world order, the domination of China over the US in world power politics, increase in digital surveillance, democracies transforming to protective states, increase in the number of failed states and a less prosperous world. COVID-19 will also affect the social and political setting of Pakistan. Here are six predictions of what Pakistan may experience after the COVID-19.
Strengthening of Public Health System: Public health system in Pakistan is serving beyond its capacities. With meager resources, it caters around one-third of the total patients in Pakistan, the majority belongs to underprivileged strata of the society. COVID-19 has turned the attention of the general public towards Government and public health system. Importance and need of control over information during this crisis has also forced the Government to enhance the capacity of the public health system to respond to this emergency. In addition to setting up an emergency hospital, many of the hospitals such as Mayo Hospital Lahore and Nishtar Hospital Multan have launched the tele-medicine services. The emergency has convinced the policymakers to follow cost-effective strategies to reduce the physical burden of the public health system.
The private health sector, on the other hand, focuses on the most prevalent diseases. This means a greater number of patients (customers in their eyes) who can afford to buy the treatment. It ignores the preparation for any future epidemics. Famous American philosopher Noam Chomsky says, “there’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe”. This highlights the importance of the public health system to prepare for such pandemics. Pakistan will have to strengthen its public health system to prepare for such pandemics in future.
Behaviour change in public health: Behaviour change is considered as one of the important strategies in public health projects by the Government and international donors. Providing accurate information is considered as the first step towards sustainable change in the behaviour of audiences. Along with the spread of COVID-19, handwashing with soap has emerged as a key message for COVID-19 protection. As a result of this campaign, those who can afford to buy a soap and access water, have started washing their hands. The intensity and severity of COVID-19 will force people to continue the handwashing even after the pandemic.
Online education: The speed of COVID-19 spread has left no time with the educational institutes to design alternate strategies to continue education during this crisis. The unpredictability of this pandemic compelled the educational institutes including schools, colleges and universities to start providing online education. Higher Education Commission of Pakistan also encourages the academic institutions to initiate online classes during this emergency. Teachers and students are facing many challenges in this process including poor connectivity, lack of quality assurance system and unavailability of devices with the students in far off areas.
Despite these challenges, online education is the only alternative strategy to continue educational activities during the crisis. The emphasis on online education will continue after COVID-19 to reduce the cost of education, enhance the access to education for students in rural and remote areas, and create linkages with international colleges and universities. The online education will also challenge the traditional mode of examination and will lead to devise the innovative means of measuring the knowledge or skills of the students.
Online shopping: The latest research report by Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (September 2019) finds that during 2018, the size of Pakistan’s E-commerce industry was PKR 99.3 Billion. The report further concludes that Pakistan has a huge potential for branchless banking and E-commerce. During COVID-19, people are buying groceries, books, medicines and garments during the lockdown. Recent trends indicate that people will continue practising online shopping as it saves time and energies.
Political parties will have new promises: Political parties and election contestants will focus more on hospitals rather on roads and bridges in their campaigns. In future elections, voters will demand the hospitals and improvement in the health system.
The challenge to popular cultural practices: Many of the popular norms in the country are challenged by Coronavirus such as handshaking while greeting their friends. Similarly avoiding funeral and regular prayers and other social gatherings is also a new normal. COVID-19 has changed the norms and compelled people to think out of the box and to deviate from their traditional practices. This will generate a debate about some cultural practices.