Survey Finds Overwhelming Majority in Pakistan Satisfied With Imran Khan's Handling of Coronavirus Crisis

An overwhelming 81% majority of Pakistanis are satisfied with Federal Government performance in responding to coronavirus pandemic, way up from 61% who expressed satisfaction in March, according to a recent Gallup Pakistan survey. These numbers reflect Pakistan's much flatter disease curve compared with most other nations, including highly developed ones, that have seen a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths. The federal government has also launched an $8 billion stimulus program to deal with the economic impact of COVID19 on small businesses and the poor daily wage earners. Meanwhile,  the nation's central bank has significantly cut interest rates from double digits down to single digit.

Bilal Gilani of Gallup Pakistan tweeted his reaction to the poll result in the following words: "These are very unusual numbers ! But not without parallels from around the world. Crisis brings good in govt and ppls expectations set changes!"

The unprecedented crisis has indeed brought out the best in Prime Minister Imran Khan's government. After some initial criticism about the slow response to the pandemic back in March, the government in Islamabad has acted quickly to deal with it. Here are some of the key actions by Prime Minister Imran Khan in March and April:

1. Nation-wide lockdown ordered to slow the spread of the disease in Pakistan. The lockdown was started by the Sindh government where the cases began to spike after the return of hundreds of Pakistani Shia pilgrims from Iran, a known COVID hotspot.  The lockdown has resulted in flattening the curve of the disease and reduced load on the developing nation's weak healthcare system.

Gallup Pakistan Coronavirus Survey

2. Prime Minister Imran Khan launched an $8 billion economic stimulus package, including funds for low-income families to be disbursed through $75 grants.

Comparison of COVID19 Cases in Select Countries. Source: Our World ...

3. All international flights into and out of the country were stopped and all passengers  who arrived before the ban went into effect were checked and those with symptoms quarantined.  This action stranded thousands of foreigners in Pakistan and several thousand Pakistanis overseas. Some flights have since been allowed to help those stranded.

4. All passenger train service was halted in Pakistan. Pakistan Railways operates 142 trains daily on its 1,885-km-long tracks to ferry some 700 million passengers every year. Coronavirus fears had already reduced ridership.

COVID19 Deaths in Select Countries. Source: Our World in Data

5. The launch of Ehsaas Emergency Cash program at the end of March to hand out Rs. 12,000 each to 12 million families (an estimated 67 million people) whose livelihood has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic or its aftermath. This came after Prime Minister Imran Khan told reporters that  “we don’t want to try and save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty".

6. Prime Minister Imran Khan granted exemption from lockdown to a few select activities, the area of forestry among them. These exemptions are subject to safe practices described in Stabdard Operating Procedures (SOPs) described by the government. Many workers idled by the coronavirus lockdown have been hired to plant millions trees as part of the Prime Minister's "10 Billion Tree Tsunami" program to deal with climate change. This is being described as "Green Stimulus".

7. Ramping up of tests and availability of  personal protection equipment (PPE), including masks and protective suits for the healthcare workers. Critics in Pakistan argue that more needs to be done to dramatically increase testing and reduce PPE shortages. This criticism is no different from that seen in other countries, including highly developed nations the United States and the United Kingdom.

Clearly, the results show that Pakistan's actions have slowed down the spread of disease caused by coronavirus in the country. The effect can be seen in Pakistan's much flatter curve compared with most other nations, including highly developed ones, that have seen a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths. The federal government has launched an $8 billion stimulus program to deal with the economic impact of COVID19 on small businesses and the poor daily wage earners.  Meanwhile,  the nation's central bank has significantly cut interest rates from double digits down to single digit.  It is these results that have produced overwhelming approval of Prime Minister Imran Khan's handling of the coronavirus crisis. Let's hope the government in Pakistan will handle the aftermath of the crisis even better.

Here's a World Economic Forum video of Pakistan's tree-planting campaign during the pandemic:

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Comment by Riaz Haq on May 7, 2020 at 5:37pm

$900 million in #COVID19 cash payments to protect #Pakistan's poor. Vouchers generated up to $1.50 of indirect market benefits for each $1; and unconditional cash transfer program generated over $2 of indirect market benefits for each $1. #Ehsaas via @wef

A cash payment programme will provide financial support to over 80 million people in Pakistan during the coronavirus crisis.
Unconditional cash transfers have been found to be effective and efficient ways to provide humanitarian assistance.
Initial reports indicate that the cash has provided some security to these vulnerable families.
With a population of over 210 million, Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world. With nearly one third of the population subsisting from daily and piece-rate wages, the COVID-19 response has necessitated an urgent and immediate strategy to protect those living in extreme poverty.

For this reason, at the same time as our government launched its efforts to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2, it also allocated $900 million to deliver emergency cash to the extremely poor. This programme is administered through Ehsaas, the federal government’s new poverty alleviation programme, in partnership with all the federating units of Pakistan – provinces and territories.

The programme delivers one-time financial assistance to the 12 million families, which given the household size in Pakistan, represents over 80 million people in the country. Each eligible family receives approximately $75, which is enough to provide subsistence nutrition for four months. Within two weeks of launch, the programme has already reached 7 million of the nation’s poorest people, representing the largest and most extensive social protection intervention in the history of the country.

The system is simple to access and employs a “rule-based” analytic system to determine eligibility. Those individuals and families wishing to benefit from an emergency cash grant were asked to send an SMS with their identity card number to a special call line. This ID number – linked to the National Socioeconomic Database, the National Database Registration Authority, and also used for travel, taxes, billing, assets ownership, government employment status, amongst other things – is used to ascertain poverty and wealth status. Those meeting pre-determined eligibility criteria receive a confirmatory SMS. Payments are conducted through two commercial banks that competed through a tender process in 2019 to service Ehsaas’ biometrically-enabled cash transfer programmes. Both banks have branchless banking retail agents in small shops. The ATM machines used also have a biometric verification system. In the majority of the cases to date, cash has been delivered to the women in the family.

Ehsaas Emergency Cash disbursement presented unprecedented challenges, in terms of its scale, the needed speed of deployment, and the milieu in which disbursement was to happen. The government was in lockdown, markets where retailers operated were closed, and bank staff were meant to work from home.

With lockdowns in effect and physical distancing measures mandatory, there were concerns about the spread of COVID-19, given the fact that people would have to queue for disbursement and use biometric identification (fingerprints on machines). Other concerns included the availability of liquidity, connectivity (as thumb impressions are verified in real-time by banks), cybersecurity, limitations of data-driven messaging (such as authorizing payment to someone who is deceased, if records are not updated), and the potential for overloading helpline numbers.

For the beneficiary there were concerns that they might be victims of crime leaving the point of service with cash. There were also concerns regarding low levels of financial and digital literacy, and that people might need transportation in some cities to reach a payment site, while intercity transport is shut down.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 7, 2020 at 7:03pm

#COVID19 has hurt India the most among the world’s top 10 economies. #Indian #manufacturing/services sectors saw the sharpest decline among top 10 #economies #India's #PMI for #services was 5.4 last month. Purchasing index below 50 means contraction. #Modi

In April 2020, India’s manufacturing and services sectors recorded the sharpest contraction among the world’s top 10 economies.

The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for services, a popular reading released by London-based IHS Markit, stood at 5.4 last month, down from 49.3 in March. A PMI reading below 50 means contraction.

The steep drop in services activity, which accounts for 52% of India’s GDP, is particularly worrying.

“Historical comparisons with GDP data suggest that India’s economy contracted at an annual rate of 15% in April. It is clear that the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic has so far been deep and far-reaching in India,” said Joe Hayes, an economist at IHS Markit.

India is under a stringent lockdown to tackle the outbreak. Almost all services, with few exceptions like banking and post, have been curtailed.

The composite PMI Index, which combines services and manufacturing activities, dropped to a record low of 7.2 in April, compared with 50.6 in March.

The survey found record contractions in output, new orders, and a drop in employment in the manufacturing sector. Also, “there was evidence of unprecedented supply-side disruption, with input delivery times lengthening to the greatest extent since data collection began in March 2005,” according to Hayes.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 7, 2020 at 8:20pm

What is the best way for #Pakistan to reopen its #economy after #coronavirus #lockdown? Which sectors are low-risk? Outdoor activities in #Agriculture & #Construction sectors? #Retail with curbside pickup? Des Pardes with Faraz Dervesh | via @YouTube

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 8, 2020 at 4:59pm

#Pakistan #COVID 1166 helpline fielding 70,000 calls a day.
Call agents are trained on #coronavirus by Pakistan's National Institute of Health in #Islamabad. #PTI Government's Sehat Tahaffuz helpline is supported by #UNICEF, #WHO and Gates Foundation.

“How can I help you?” Pause. “Have you travelled out of the country recently?” Pause. “Please stay on the line. I am connecting you to a doctor.”

The young woman reassuring someone on the other end of the line is Sadia Saleem (pictured above), a call agent at the ‘Sehat Tahaffuz (meaning health protection in Urdu) 1166’ helpline centre in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Originally set up for parents and caregivers to get support and information about polio and other vaccines supported by UNICEF and partners, the helpline is now being inundated with tens of thousands of calls every day about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As part of its emergency response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has expanded the centre to help people get information on how to stay safe and connect them to a doctor when required.

“I received a phone call from a 75-year-old man this morning. He was so scared and confused because of the coronavirus situation. He asked if sunbathing could help him stay protected from the virus,” said Sadia. [It can't.] “I explained to him the symptoms of the virus and the preventive measures. He seemed relieved and thanked me.”

Sadia is one of 250 call agents currently staffing the helpline which operates in shifts, from 8:00 am to midnight every day, seven days a week.

More than 80 per cent of calls received every day at the helpline are related to basic information on COVID-19, such as symptoms.

“I’ve been working for the 1166 helpline since its inception. It’s stressful work, but I feel proud that I’m serving the people during this challenging time,” said Sadia. “In addition to receiving reliable information such as the symptoms of coronavirus and the contact information for the testing facility, I think most people feel some comfort just speaking with someone from the health system.”

“Initially, we were receiving about 1,000 calls a day. During the National Polio Immunization Campaign in February 2020 for example, people were calling to report missed children, clarify doubts about vaccines and lodge complaints when health and vaccine services were not working,” said Huma Shaukat, a Helpline Liaison Officer.

However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the amount of calls has increased dramatically, to about 50,000 to 70,000 calls a day.

The number of calls grew to such an extent that the government stepped in to assign additional resources. The Prime Minister’s Office extended support to recruit an additional 165 agents and the National Institute of Health assigned 10 more doctors to the technical team.

Dr. Rabia Basri is one of the doctors working at the helpline. “Every day I receive about 40 calls, some last as long as 20 minutes,” said Dr. Rabia. “These are difficult times for everyone. I often advise people about personal hygiene and physical distancing, and if they are having symptoms, help connect them with a hospital for the coronavirus test and further medical support.”

At the helpline centre, television screens mounted on the wall display real-time information about incoming calls and graph representing the number of calls.

All call agents undergo a comprehensive training on COVID-19 by the National Institute of Health where they learn about the virus. These trainings are then followed by sessions on the helpline technology and interpersonal communication.

“The training and commitment of the call agents are very important. Otherwise the helpline will not work,” said Huma.

Many precautions are in place to make it a healthy work environment for agents and prevent the spread of COVID-19 – including checking individual temperatures at the entrance of the helpline building, providing masks to all agents and ensuring a supply of hand sanitizer.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 8, 2020 at 5:28pm

With hunters in #COVID19 #lockdown, there's a boon for migratory birds in #Pakistan. Millions of migratory birds from Siberia coming to #Pakistan and enjoying warm waters. #migratorybirds #coronavirus #wildlife

The abrupt silence caused by restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus may have hit economies hard, leaving people jobless, but it has come as a boon for migratory birds, especially in Pakistan.

With hunters and those dealing engaging in the sale of exotic birds have been forced to stay at home, migratory birds are making hay in Pakistan’s warm waters. To avoid a stinging winter of Siberia, every year millions of birds travel large distances to stay in warm Indian waters.

But on their way back from March-April, while overflying and taking rest in Pakistan they become easy targets of hunters and bird traders.

"Thousands of migratory birds are not only hunted but also caged for sale during this period every year. The ongoing lockdown has helped them return to their homeland safely," said Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the technical adviser of the Pakistan-chapter of World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Pakistan has been under lockdown since March and will continue until May 9 as the country has reported 22,550 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 526 deaths so far, according to data compiled by the US-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.

"Returning to home was equally risky for the migratory birds. Thousands of them would fall prey to hunters, and poachers during migration, during their repatriation," Khan told Anadolu Agency.

The country’s southern Sindh province, which hosts a majority of migratory birds has reported a significant decrease in hunting compared to the last year.

"The ongoing shutdown has provided relief to the overall wildlife. It has also saved thousands of migratory birds, including endangered species, which otherwise are hunted during the process of back-migration," Javed Mahar the chief conservator of wildlife department told Anadolu Agency.

Every year over one million birds migrate from Siberia covering a grueling distance of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) in search of moderate waters. Although their ultimate destination is in India, they make stopovers at various lakes and water reservoirs in Pakistan, mainly in Sindh province.

A hunting ground for Arab sheikhs

These birds include houbara bustards, cranes, teals, pintails, mallards, geese, spoonbills, waders, and pelicans.

The sprawling deserts of Thar and Cholistan are the favorite hunting grounds for the Arab hunters. Some argue the hunting safaris of wealthy Arab sheikhs create jobs and help improve the local infrastructure.

Climate change and the uncontrolled hunting of several rare species have forced the migratory birds -- also known as guest birds -- to look for other peaceful sites in South Asia in recent years, say environmentalists.

The unchecked exercise has endangered several rare species, mainly the houbara bustard, which is constantly being hunted by Arab royals despite opposition from both environmentalists and locals.

The prolonged lockdown has also halted the illegal wildlife trade in the country, at least for now.

"Almost all the legal and illegal pet markets across the country are closed following the suspension of road, and air links, which has contained the wildlife trafficking," Shabina Faraz, a Karachi-based expert, who frequently writes on environment and wildlife, said while speaking to Anadolu Agency.

Even the business of amateur poachers, who would cage birds like house sparrow and parrots, for the roadside sale, has dried up because of restrictions on public movement.

Many in Pakistan buy and set free these caged birds considering it an act of benevolence or to cast away evil.

Fresh lease of life to wildlife

Another species trafficked from Pakistan include freshwater and marine turtles, tortoises, raptors particularly falcons, pangolins, snakes, and other reptiles.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 9, 2020 at 11:19pm

The Benefits and Costs of Social Distancing in Rich and Poor
Zachary Barnett-Howell∗ Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak†

Social distancing is the primary policy prescription for combating the COVID-19 pandemic,
and has been widely adopted in Europe and North America. We estimate the value of disease
avoidance using an epidemiological model that projects the spread of COVID-19 across rich and
poor countries. Social distancing measures that “flatten the curve" of the disease to bring demand within the capacity of healthcare systems are predicted to save many lives in high-income
countries, such that practically any economic cost is worth bearing. These social distancing
policies are estimated to be less effective in poor countries with younger populations less susceptible to COVID-19, and more limited healthcare systems, which were overwhelmed before
the pandemic. Moreover, social distancing lowers disease risk by limiting people’s economic
opportunities. Poorer people are less willing to make those economic sacrifices. They place
relatively greater value on their livelihood concerns compared to contracting COVID-19. Not
only are the epidemiological and economic benefits of social distancing much smaller in poorer
countries, such policies may exact a heavy toll on the poorest and most vulnerable. Workers in
the informal sector lack the resources and social protections to isolate themselves and sacrifice
economic opportunities until the virus passes. By limiting their ability to earn a living, social
distancing can lead to an increase in hunger, deprivation, and related mortality and morbidity.
Rather than a blanket adoption of social distancing measures, we advocate for the exploration of
alternative harm-reduction strategies, including universal mask adoption and increased hygiene


The cost of leaving COVID-19 uncontrolled in the United States is
unambiguously large. This is due to higher predicted mortality rates in the United States relative to
other countries and the higher base VSL. In comparison to U.S. losses, the dollar costs of uncontrolled
COVID-19 in large countries such as Pakistan or Nigeria look minuscule. The more relevant question
for any country-specific policy is the total cost of COVID-19 mortality under each scenario relative
to that country’s own GDP.


Although the value of intervention is more comparable by this metric, without mitigation efforts
COVID-19 still imposes a large welfare cost—above 130% of GDP in rich countries like the United
States and Japan. In contrast, in the unmitigated scenario the losses in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan,
Nigeria, Nepal are about 50-60% of their own annual GDP. T

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 10, 2020 at 10:41pm

Lives not worth saving

By Khurram Husain

The study in question is called The Benefits and Costs of Social Distancing in Rich and Poor Countries, and it is authored by Zachary Barnett-Howell and Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, both highly credentialled and published economists at Yale. It begins by asking whether “shuttering the economy for weeks or months and mass unemployment are reasonable costs to pay?” in return for “flattening the curve” of Covid-19 cases. In order to answer their own question, the authors have to first render both the costs and benefits of a lockdown into a comparable unit. The economic costs are measured in dollars, whereas the health benefits of a lockdown are measured in lives saved. So the question arises: how to compare these two quantities — lives and money — with each other?


To do so, the authors deploy a widely used model in the economics literature called the Value of Statistical Life model. What VSL does, quite literally, is tell us the dollar value of human life in different contexts. It was used originally in more limited contexts to help policymakers with complex judgements in cases where a particular policy imposed an economic cost in return for a vague health benefit. One example might be setting air quality standards.

But with the passage of time, the VSL model began to be used in contexts far more complicated and more pressing than any in the past. One example is climate change, where a number of economists from prestigious universities have used the model to argue that the benefits from the mitigation efforts to curb carbon emissions that scientists are calling for are not worth the economic costs that they will impose. Simply put, they argued that the likelihood of climate change turning out to be a catastrophic event was small, and making massive investments in foregone output today to avert an event that was probabilistically miniscule was not worth the cost.

The VSL at stake did not justify the massive investments required to curb greenhouse gas emissions to a two per cent increase by century end. This debate was sparked in 2006 when the Stern Review, put out by the eminent UK economist and public servant Nicholas Stern, argued that such an investment was now a matter of existential importance for mankind to make. Those who opposed him either took issue with his projections of the economic losses that climate change would impose, or invoked the VSL model to argue that the foregone economic output was larger than what was purportedly being saved.

It took 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to cut through the Gordian technicalities into which the ensuing conversation fell. “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing,” she exclaimed in her famous address to the UN in September 2019. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Today, the economists are back, armed with their VSL model, telling us that the dollar value of the lives saved as a result of the lockdown are worth less than the foregone output in developing countries, and they specifically mention Pakistan as one example.

For the US, for example, they say 1.76 million lives will be saved through aggressive interventions, and put the total value of these lives at $7.9 trillion. This easily justifies a $2tr stimulus along with whatever economic losses result from a closure of the economy.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 10, 2020 at 10:44pm

BASED on the remarks of two key officials at the helm of pandemic control in the country, it appears that the federal government is pursuing an unannounced policy of ‘herd immunity’.

The first indication of this came from SAPM Dr Zafar Mirza, who in an interview with DawnNews earlier this week conceded that “it will be better for the future if coronavirus spreads at a certain level so people can become immune”.

The second, albeit less categorical, message came from federal minister and NCOC chair Asad Umar during a talk show. Although he said it is not a policy decision, he justified it by saying that the logical conclusion of the pandemic is either a vaccine or a situation where 70pc of the population contracts the virus and achieves herd immunity. That these remarks have come as the government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions — despite the spike in death and infection curves — is extremely troubling.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 11, 2020 at 9:56am

Teleschool goes on air today to compensate for academic loss

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday inaugurated a national broadcast education channel to mitigate the loss faced by the students due to the closure of educational institutions till May 31 in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.

Teleschool — the dedicated TV channel — will be aired through a beam provided by Pakistan Television (PTV) from Tuesday (today) across the country from 8am to 6pm for online education from class one to 12.

Speaking at its launching ceremony, the prime minister said that teleschool would help students learn during the closure of schools. This initiative would also help the government reach the remote areas, which didn’t have access to education facilities and infrastructure, Mr Khan said.

He said as Pakistan had a large number of out-of-school children (OOSC), this initiative could promote primary education and focus on the OOSC.

He said no one could predict when Covid-19 would be eliminated, as it could take two, three or six months. He said this project was highly productive in the given circumstances.

The PM was of the opinion that this project should continue even after the pandemic was over and reopening of schools. He said it would help promote education in remote areas while the concept could also be used for telemedicine.

He said that adult literacy could also be promoted through this project. He appreciated all those officials who played their role to launch this project.

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood at the launch told the premier that education ministry was also mulling to develop an app to benefit over 20 million out-of-school children and promote adult literacy.

About country’s literacy rate, the minister said: “We have just 60 per cent literacy rate”. He said the education ministry was trying to link education with technology so that adults who wanted to learn had access to education through mobile phones.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan was also present at the launch of teleschool.

Officials of the education ministry told Dawn that the dedicated TV channel, teleschool, would be available on satellite, terrestrial and cable networks so that it would be accessible to most parts of the country, including hard-to-reach remote areas, ensuring equity in learning. An officer of the education ministry said that the ministry initially inked an agreement with PTV for three months, but if needed it could be extended as the PM also expressed his desire for the project’s continuation.

Joint Secretary (Education) Syed Umair Javed, who had supervised the content development process, told Dawn that online content was developed in accordance with country’s curriculum and it was made attractive for students.

“The credit of making this project possible in less than a month goes to unsung heroes: content developers, teachers and staff of Federal Directorate of Education, editors, techs and producers of Allama Iqbal Open University and PTV,” he said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 11, 2020 at 1:42pm

The Benefits and Costs of Social Distancing in Rich and Poor
Zachary Barnett-Howell∗ Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak†

The prediction of significantly lower incidence of COVID-19 deaths in poor countries is primarily
based on the younger average age of their population. The model accounts for the fact that poor
countries have fewer hospital beds and lower ICU capacity, and will be entirely unable to meet
peak demand. The lower marginal benefits of implementing suppression policies in poor countries
arises from the fact that by the time suppression is triggered, the model predicts that COVID-19
will have already spread significantly, overwhelming countries with low healthcare capacity. Older
people in low-income countries are also more likely to become infected by COVID-19 as they have
higher contact with other individuals inside and outside the household, but the large demographic
differences between rich and poor countries outweighs this factor.
The model, however, does not presently account for the higher burden of infectious diseases and
chronic illness in low-income countries, particularly in children, basing its estimate of healthcare
demand and overall mortality on data from China. This could lead to an under-estimate of mortality
in low-income countries (Walker et al., 2020). On the other hand, the model presumes equally
effective implementation of mitigation or suppression policies in poor and rich countries. Recent
experience in India with the large and slow exodus of migrant workers from cities following lockdown suggests that suppression policies imperfectly implemented in low-capacity settings may have
counter-productive effects on containing COVID-19.

1.3 Differences in the Economic Value of Interventions in Rich and Poor Countries
The COVID-19 mitigation strategies considered in our model are all based on reducing contact
rates. However, lower contact comes at the cost of reduced economic activity and lower earnings.
We measure the economic value of avoided mortality from mitigation policies in each country using
Viscusi and Masterman (2017)’s country-specific value of statistical life (VSL) estimates. The VSL
is based on how people trade off the risk of harm and economic reward. Individuals face mortality


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