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Relatively spared by Covid-19, Pakistanis drop their guard – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Alongside the usual snacks arranged on a tray balanced on one hand, Momin Khan sells face masks to passengers at a crowded bus stand in Islamabad. Most choose the snacks instead of paying six cents for a mask, he says.

“It’s mostly rich people buying the masks, the poor people say we don’t have the money anyway and we will do without them,” he said.

Nearby, dozens of passengers crowd into a minivan, only a handful wearing masks, as the driver shuts the door and windows to keep out the winter cold.

Pakistan has reported 528,891 cases so far, and 11,204 deaths, far lower than what officials had feared. Now, authorities worry complacency could undo that good fortune, as an economic divide emerges between the public when it comes to who is remaining vigilant.

Some 57 per cent of Pakistanis say the virus threat is exaggerated, and 42 per cent say it’s a foreign conspiracy, according to a December 2020 poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan.

Restrictions to curb the pandemic, dubbed standard operating proce­dures, are rarely followed.

At the bus station, passengers are supposed to sit socially distanced, wearing masks. “We lose a lot of income when they are apart from each other, because only when the bus is full can we make a profit,” Kabir Ahmed Kiyani, the stations manager, told Reuters.

Elsewhere, Islamabad’s De­­­­puty Commissioner Mu­­ham­­mad Hamza Shafqaat leads a team of police officers on a surprise inspection of a bustling upscale marketplace. Shopkeepers usher out customers and hastily produce masks.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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