Pakistan, like the rest of the world, is severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and is under a nationwide lockdown. There have been 4695 confirmed cases and 66 deaths of the coronavirus disease as of Apr 10. Covid.gov.pk is the official government website for realtime information. Covidwatch.pk is a volunteer effort that's making realtime data available in regional languages.
Looking at Financial Times plots, Pakistan is at the lower end among the 6 largest countries in terms of growth in the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
Daily Covid-19 Confirmed Cases
The doubling time for confirmed cases for Pakistan is 8.5 days as of Apr 10, compared to China (1.5d), India (3d), US (3d), Indonesia (n/a) and Brazil (5.5d) at a similar absolute number of confirmed cases.
Daily Covid-19 Deaths
The doubling time for covid deaths in Pakistan is 8 days as of Apr 10, compared to China (2d), India (3d), US (4.5d), Indonesia (5.5d) and Brazil (3d) at a similar absolute number of deaths.
Covid-19 testing remains easily available and continues to ramp up. Tests done in Pakistan per capita are about the same as Brazil, much better at about 2x that of India and 4x that of Indonesia, but still have ways to get to the US level which is 30x more. Only about 9% of the tests in Pakistan are positive compared to 19% for the US, indicating that testing is not a bottleneck. Drive-thru testing has been introduced in Karachi.
KP government is using random testing of affected areas to determine when to relax quarantines for certain areas. Sindh government is doing the same.
Government & Public Response
Government response has been swift after an initial failure of effectively preventing corona infections from returning travelers. By March 24th, when Pakistan was approaching 1000 confirmed cases, all provincial governments had ordered lockdown (KP’s being a partial one). Federal and provincial governments have been fairly open in their assessment of situation and sharing realtime data.
These lockdowns are not being observed or enforced strictly and uniformly across the country, however, and that is a risk factor. In particular, many people continue to go to mosques for Friday prayers despite bans.
There are also questions about how long it would be possible for daily wage earners to stay home. The federal government has launched programs to deliver monthly payments to more than 12 million households (72 million individuals, roughly a third of Pakistan's population) to address this. 1.3 million families have already received cash disbursement in the last 3 days under the federal Ehsaas Emergency Cash program. The speed with which this has been rolled out is really impressive. Provincial governments are supplementing this with their own efforts.
One factor that is expected to reduce the severity in Pakistan is that it has one of the youngest populations with a median age of 23. Only 6.7% of Pakistan’s population is over 60, which is when the fatality risk spikes, compared to 21% for the US and 40% for Italy. However, if there's run-away growth in cases and hospitalization, the healthcare system can get overwhelmed and that will lead to high number of fatalities.
The economic impact on Pakistan is going to be high but there’s a lot of uncertainty. The Asian Development Bank is forecasting 2020 GDP growth slowing down to 2.6%, which seems optimistic in my opinion. The World Bank projected Pakistan’s economy to slow down to a 1% annual growth rate, same as seen during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. A lot will depend on how quickly the economy opens up. The government is keen to open certain sectors like construction and textile soon to prevent the entire economy from being halted. It’s too early to predict the extent of the economic impact with any confidence but we’ll have a lot more clarity in about a month.
The Way Forward
While there’s plenty of uncertainty and fear in today’s world, I have an unwavering belief in human ingenuity. For the first time in history, everyone is focused on solving the same problem. We’ll solve it and we will bounce back from this. When we do, we’ll need to build new infrastructure and services in Pakistan that are robust, responsive and can scale up quickly.
These services and underlying infrastructure will not be built by the government spending billions of dollars which it doesn’t have. These will be built by relentlessly resourceful women and men not bound by old ways of thinking. They will use technology to rebuild every vertical and aspect of how society operates.
Indus Valley Capital, with its recent first close, is ready to support these individuals with capital, time and networks of our investors.
Please take good care of yourself, your loved ones and the most vulnerable around you. See you at the other end of this, ready to rebuild together.