It is an indictment of the capability of not just the health administration but of the whole government body. In these circumstances the state could nurture the idea of a technocratic public health policy under the leadership of our honourable prime minister.
The pandemic has shown us with rather brutal clarity that societal changes albeit difficulties are not impossible.
It has reshaped life's exigencies. Now, more than ever, we know what we can - and cannot - live without.
This pandemic has been the phantom in the opera of normal lives. Ridding us of our comfortable illusions, it has shown that the high ideals of capitalism and consumerism with which we have been sleeping rather callously, too comfortably, too frequently, can be put on ice in times of crisis.
As fear and uncertainty eclipses hope, the nation is now grappling with the question, "how can we return to normalcy?"
Lacking therapeutic interventions, the world resorted to social distancing aimed primarily at lowering the virus reproduction rate to less than one.
Such measures though effective may be unsustainable, as individual social and economic needs will, at some point surpass the perceived risk of the pandemic.
This raises the need for the government to immediately develop a properly equipped public health bureaucracy.
Public health interventions should take the place of the restrictions that are gradually exhibiting belligerent characteristics.
Health interventions should not be limited to ramping up abilities to test and detect infections albeit it is needless to iterate that even these attempts to test more have been dismally penurious.
The objective of a nimble bureaucracy would be to augment public and private sector resources and allocate these resources in a concerted fashion, initially to produce a large number of test results each day.
It should be understood that sample collection and random testing across widely dispersed regions may not yield information that can be analysed to identify sectors or economic clusters qualified for selective reopening.
Therefore, a mechanism should be developed that will yield higher volumes of both quantitative and qualitative information. For this, the government can implement stratified sampling rather than random sampling.
Clusters should be identified through proper analysis of the employment history of the infected employment , residence while on employment and migration history prior to or during lockdown.
Information possessing such characteristics could be used to reopen the sectors least exposed and therefore, at the lowest risk of experiencing an outbreak.
This way the economy's engine can send torque to the sectors with the highest traction and help the country crawl out of the ditch.
Contact tracing processes now rely on the honest disclosure of information but the state of our healthcare system has only reduced individual incentives to do so, thus giving rise to a moral hazard problem.
With available technology the government could deploy surveillance measures to trace geolocations and probable proximities in order to gain better insights.
In hindsight, however, geolocation surveillance or social media surveillance to trace contacts could appear to leave long term pervading effects on individual privacy and freedom.
Therefore the policy devised should ensure that the suspended privacies be reinstated once this is over.
Information accumulated through stratified sampling and technology driven contact tracing could help to impose selective or alternating lockdowns and implement selective reopening.
The government should also give some thought to an alternating lock-down strategy, under which half of the asymptomatic population (vulnerability assessed through industry, locality, sector specific contact tracing) remains under lock-down while the other half continues to be active; a routine of weekly succession could be maintained while all symptomatic individuals should continue to remain in isolation.
Under this regime, individuals exposed to the virus during their active week will already begin to exhibit symptoms by the time they complete their lock-down. Thus the strategy might help to isolate the majority of exposed individuals during their asymptomatic phase.
This strategy, while allowing some degree of flexibility and withstanding a fraction of defectors or essential workers that remain continuously active, could control human gregariousness while providing an outlet for people to sustain their economic and social routines: an incentive to follow the rules.
Interventions should also implicate that those isolated would be cared for.
Actions of the bureaucracy should actively show the distinction between temporary isolation and ostracisation.
The temporarily isolated should be reabsorbed into the workforce quickly and should not have to overcome a plethora of unwarranted barriers erected as a consequence of ill thought rehabilitation policies or out of prejudice or maleficence.
On the political front, all should immediately act to ensure that this pandemic does not metamorphose to fuel for political polarisation. This is a period of national crisis; a crisis that does not have a defined duration.
Public health administration's sonorous empty vessels broke in a rhapsody when their lack of any proper contingency plan came to light as the virus actually hit the country.
It is an indictment of the capability of not just the health administration but of the whole government body. In these circumstances the state could nurture the idea of a technocratic public health policy under the leadership of our prime minister.
Formation of such a national commission to tackle the problem at hand might be a meaningful response to the clamorous failures of the current public health administration.
Despite all our limitations and shortcomings, it will help us believe that people and not politics will be prioritised.
On a different front international cooperation is necessary with likeminded nations. We should not be too dependent on multilateral institutions, for example WHO, IMF or ADB.
These institutions are usually infiltrated and often fail to do what is expected or is right during times of crisis as they subvert to the wishes of the people who actually fund and run them.
Finally, to sound a word a caution the state must beware of economic unorthodoxy because a pandemic or such economic crisis is a fertile breeding ground for reformists and eccentric economists whose thought process is populated with extremist ideals.
These are times when everybody wants to get in on the act. The state should choose the act and the actors cautiously if normalcy is to be restored.
Zulfiker Hyder is the founder of Rational Nudge.