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Averting the Worst – How the Telecom Sector Helped Pakistan Curtail Its Covid-19 Pandemic

The havoc that the novel coronavirus began to wreak early last year shows no signs of abating. Today, the country is gripped in the third and the deadliest wave so far, recording its highest daily Covid-19 deaths on April 28. As of now, the virus has infected over 800,000 and killed about 18,000 Pakistanis, while over 700,000 people have also recovered from the disease.

A number of vaccines – developed and trailed in record time – now raise hopes of an end to this unprecedented pandemic that hasn’t stopped jolting our economy and lives for over a year. Besides their loved ones, countless people have also lost jobs while an air of fear looms large on their minds. Although grim, the situation could have been much worse if it wasn’t for certain moves that we made in time.

Besides multiple timely measures to curb the spread – such as lockdowns, travel bans, issuance of SOPs, etc. – the country also mobilized key service providers to educate the masses about the virus and issue public advisory on staying protected amid the contagion. The backbone of this massive undertaking was Pakistan’s ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) sector that played the chief role in keeping the virus from tumbling our lives and economy.

According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), two billion coronavirus awareness messages have so far been sent since 19th March 2020 in Urdu, English, and regional languages to mobile users across Pakistan. Furthermore, 1.036 million cautionary messages have been sent to the people who were suspected to have been in contact with the novel coronavirus patients. Millions of Corona Awareness Ring Back Tones (RBTs) were activated on 131.7 million subscribers’ mobile devices.

The role of the telecom sector has especially been commendable as awareness campaigns of this unprecedented scale weren’t possible without their outright support in handling this mega emergency. One key player that shines among others is PTCL, the national telecom service provider in Pakistan. The company remained focused on facilitating the masses in these tough times and ensured connectivity at all times during this pandemic.

This seamless connectivity helped millions of Pakistanis know what the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (Covid-19) are and how they could remain protected amid the swift spread. Moreover, PTCL also collaborated with global digital platforms to help its massive consumer base stay home and safe during the epidemic. Understanding that keeping people engaged and productive while minimizing their exposure was key, PTCL took many other measures.

Some of the critical measures taken by PTCL to bolster the national fight against the novel coronavirus included online bill payment systems and the launch of 24×7 WhatsApp service for customer facilitation with enhanced customer care experience exactly when they needed it the most. These efforts are on top of the company’s substantial and proactive response to the pandemic where it announced a massive support package with its heroes connecting the country bravely and tirelessly.

The company’s commitment to Pakistan was also reflected in its financial results for Q1, 2021 where it posted an impressive 42.6% profit growth; this was achieved despite the negative effects of the pandemic. Besides PTCL’s efforts, the numbers also show the trust of Pakistanis in the company as it continues to be their primary connectivity partner, especially during these times when people are working, studying, transacting, and shopping online.

The role of ICT players like PTCL becomes more crucial when the country has steep digitalization goals. Today, Pakistan is aiming for a knowledge economy that’s built on information technology. It is also looking to close its digital and financial inclusion gaps which can’t be achieved without the continuous support of the telecom sector. While the pandemic has given a sudden but much-needed push to digitalization in Pakistan – internet usage rose 25% during pandemic-induced lockdowns, and the local e-commerce market size posted a growth of over 35% Q1, 2021 – it’s consistent support from the ICT players that will bring permanent success.

Elsewhere in the world too, the ICT sector has played a key role in controlling and mitigating the otherwise uncontrollable pandemic. East Asian countries experienced striking success in flattening the Covid-19 curve through an aggressive application of mobile contact-tracing technologies. For instance, South Korea, which once was home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, monitored citizens on lockdown through a smartphone app.

The response in Pakistan was admittedly not as advanced as some other places in the world, but the success we have experience through ICT players like PTCL is truly remarkable. But, as we may still be far from beating the pandemic, the concerted efforts of the telecom sector will be needed for a longer period of time not only to emerge victorious in this tough battle, but also help the current wave of digitalization intensify as the time passes.

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