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Podcast: Developing a smarter lockdown in Punjab

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We discuss the smart lockdown and kick-starting the economy in Punjab with the Chairman of Punjab’s Planning and Development Board, Hamed Yakoob Sheikh.

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Welcome to episode two of Policy in Pandemics. The podcast is looking at the current Covid-19 crisis from the point of view of governments and policy makers around the world. We’re speaking to all kinds of people – both inside and outside of government – to learn how they are responding to covid-19, what challenges are emerging, and what lessons are being learned.

In last week’s episode OPM’s Peter Harrington spoke to Etjen Xhafaj - the Deputy Foreign Minister of Albania – about Albania’s experience tackling Covid-19. This week we move from the Balkans to South Asia, specifically Punjab province in Pakistan, and speak to Hamed Yakoob Sheikh, the Chairman of the Planning and Development (P&D) Board for Punjab.

Bordering India, Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province with over 110million people, and contributes over half of the country’s GDP. It represents a radically different context to Albania in terms of containing the crisis, and the P&D Board has been at the heart of that work so far. After a slow start, and with the holy month of Ramadan approaching, the government at both federal and provincial level had its work cut out in March and April to catch up with and contain the virus.

In the discussion we explore the several difficult but central policy challenges that have emerged for many countries during Covid: the challenge of tailoring protective measures to context; coordinating between federal and state levels of government; the tricky process of balancing public health with a gradual exit from lockdown and planning for economic recovery; and the need to work with the grain of cultural practices and difficult decisions around religious worship during Ramadan.

One of the most interesting features of the response in Pakistan has been the latitude given to provincial governments to adjust protective and lockdown measures according to their situation, and Hamed provides a fascinating insight into the Punjab-specific approach they took, as well as their move towards a ‘smart lockdown’. While the specifics may be unique to Punjab, their experience evokes similar challenges that countries around the world are facing, and the experiences in Pakistan have resonance far beyond its borders.