Islamabad:Prof Swaran Singh from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, has said that the democratic and demographic dividend of South Asia was under threat from the coronavirus and supported the already under discussion idea of introducing a global treaty for fighting the pandemic.
Prof Singh was speaking at a webinar on ‘Response to challenges of pandemic in South Asia,’ organised by Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) here Monday. Prof Singh stressed greater understanding of the scientific nuances with regard to the spread and control of COVID-19. He said that humans were social beings and it was highly stressful for them to endure social distancing. He even suggested to call it physical distancing instead of social distancing.
He cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to the pandemic without keeping in mind the domestic social realities of the South Asian countries. He called for evolving long-term SAARC-level responses to the pandemic as he believed that it was not likely to disappear any time soon.
Sri Lankan author and political columnist Assanga Abeya-Goonasekera shared research proving that effectively functioning democracies had fared better against COVID-19 than countries with populist leaders. He was of the view that Covid-19 response of the South Asian countries had exposed their systemic risk factors such as lack of rational political decision-making on key subjects like the spread of pandemics. He especially highlighted the hubris mentality of the political leaders of South Asia, which, according to him, led to inaction against the spread of the pandemic. He attributed the absence of regionalism in South Asia to a lack of Track II interaction within the region.
Dr Prakash Bhattarai, Director of the Centre for Social Change, Nepal, blamed the government’s response to the pandemic for the high casualty figures in his country. He was of the view that the Nepalese government politicised this important subject resulting in misplaced priorities. He argued that the Government of Nepal was not adequately prepared for the second wave of the pandemic despite warnings issued by various international health agencies. He shared that non-scientific immunity-boosting methods were propagated by the Prime Minister of Nepal himself and that the management of vaccine procurement and distribution was also politicised.
Dr Bhattarai regretted that critical opportunities for regional cooperation were missed in terms of initiating a dialogue on the pandemic in South Asia and commencing joint research on vaccine production and distribution. He added that there was a lack of consolidated regional data on the pandemic resulting in inadequacies related to damage assessment and a comprehensive regional response.
Nadeem Riyaz, President, IRS, called the response of the Government of Pakistan towards the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic as quite balanced.