KASB Ray of hope: Beware of fake news

There have been attacks on telecom instalments across Europe on the back of rumours that 5G signals cause COVID. In the UK, there have been over 60 such attacks. Maybe someone is deliberately spreading such rumours to stymie Huawei’s rollout of 5G. In any case, there is a lot of dangerous disinformation – some politically motivated and some just for attention – both equally dangerous. My father, who is 71 and diabetic/heart patient believes that the virus stays in the throat for 7 days and can be killed by gargles. He read it on Whatsapp. Fake news on social media was always dangerous but its significance has grown as now our lives have moved more comprehensively to the digital space.

The number of infection cases has now crossed 2m globally with over 128,000 deaths. The article in The News which quoted that there have been over 300 COVID related but unreported deaths in Karachi has gone viral. It is of course much higher than the 128 nationwide number published by the government. I do not believe in the BCG immunity theory yet. I hope it is true. However, anecdotal reports of deaths of over 100 Pakistanis in New York disputes it. Even in the UK, the highest number of deaths are of the ethnic minorities (which include Pakistanis). We are generally more unhealthy (higher
diabetes and incidence of diseases such as Hep C etc). On the other hand, I do think that the overall deaths in Pakistan will be far lesser than in Europe and the US, simply because of fewer high-risk people. For example, in the UK 50% of the deaths are of people above the age of 80. There are only 1.4m people in Pakistan in that age group. The death rate in the UK in this segment is 15%. So that still means 63,000 deaths assuming 30% of this cohort in Pakistan gets infection.

The news about some debt relief by IMF for Pakistan would be a quite a significant positive development. I think the PM Khan has adopted the right strategy of lobbying for this. There is a recognition that the overall quantum of sovereign debt globally will reach unsustainable levels post COVID19 and the only solution will be a major restructuring. My only concern is that if this becomes the zeitgeist, then there is a risk that it can lead to moral hazard domestically and lead to higher defaults by domestic creditors on their debt from Pakistani banks. After all, why should they do any different from the state. My colleague Faisal Irfan downgraded his outlook on the banking sector on the back of this and some other concern. Please email if you want his report.

We pray for the good health of you and your families.

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