When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Pakistan in late February, it was expected to hit the country badly. The concern was that with poor health and nutrition indicators and the fiscal restraints imposed by an ongoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) stabilization program, Pakistan would be unprepared to respond. The health fears were stoked further in late May when Pakistan’s R0 value (a measure of contagious disease that indicates an epidemic for values greater than one) surpassed two and the positivity ratio (the percentage of those tested found to be infected) peaked at 22 percent in mid-June.
In response, Pakistan intensified its lockdown. Despite the limitations, the government also rolled out a spate of health, income support, and business financing interventions to mitigate the economic hardships. By mid-August, the virus was under control, as seen in the sharp decline in daily cases and deaths. Civil unrest, feared in the early stages when the country faced a generalized lockdown and a severe income shock to low-income urban households (nearly half the population), did not materialize. Importantly, despite the fiscally demanding coping interventions, Pakistan remains on the pre-COVID-19 macro-stabilization trajectory.
COVID-19, of course, is not behind us—it may return and may again severely test the government’s management capacity. To prepare for this, the lessons learnt from coping with the crisis as it has unfolded thus far will be valuable both to Pakistan to manage a possible second wave, as well as to other countries.