Pakistan: A Struggling Economy Destroyed by COVID-19

07.02.2020 | Articles | Dr. S Akbar Zaidi


On 12 June, Pakistan’s annual budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 (beginning 1 July) was presented in Parliament, laying out the government’s policies and strategies for the next twelve months.[1] On the same day, Pakistan registered its single highest increase in coronavirus cases in a day, 6,472 new cases, taking the confirmed known cases to 134, 667 with a death toll of 2,574, clearly much lower than many countries which have far smaller populations. Pakistan is, after all, the sixth largest country in the world with a population of around 220m.  Yet what is worth highlighting is the fact that over the month of May, the daily average death by the disease was 36 individuals, while in the first two weeks of June, on average 77 people died every day and 60,000 people were infected by coronavirus suggesting a major escalation in the spread and death toll in Pakistan.[2] Although still 15th in a global list of countries with known cases, on 12 June Pakistan’s tally of 6,472 new cases was the fourth highest daily total after the US, India and Russia, and the eighth highest in terms of those who died in a single day.[3] By all accounts, this trajectory is particularly frightening, indicating a potential major disaster over the coming weeks. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, stated that Pakistan’s peak load of cases is still many weeks away, expected at the end of July or even sometime in August.[4]


While there has been extensive discussion in the press and on social media about which strategy works best for Pakistan – lockdown, social distancing, partial closures, etc. – and much recrimination about how the various provincial governments have handled the epidemic, there is no doubt that the impact of the virus on Pakistan’s economy has been devastating. Moreover, given this devastating impact, discussions between citizens and policy makers have centered on the issue of whether Pakistan could ‘afford a lockdown’ financially. These discussions have become acrimonious overestimating the cost of a life, or whether Pakistan can close down the country while people’s economic lives suffer, or where one should impose a so-called ‘smart lockdown’ with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Regardless of these debates, all signs suggest that Pakistan’s economy has suffered immensely, as have many others across the globe. The difference perhaps, between Pakistan and other countries is, that Pakistan’s economy was already struggling for numerous reasons, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the existing problems. Even if Pakistan’s economy were to recover after the virus, ‘back to normal’, would still be far below optimum.

[1] Pakistan’s fiscal year runs from 1 July through 30 June.

[2] All numbers about the spread of Pakistan’s coronavirus are taken from the Dawn newspaper’s Live Coronavirus Pandemic page