SEATTLE, Washington — Pakistan is a low-middle income country with approximately two-thirds of its population depending on daily incomes. Without any restrictions, the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the population. Thankfully, TikTok in Pakistan is on the rise as a fresh way to connect with citizens on COVID-19 updates.
The Status of COVID-19 in Pakistan
The Pakistani government decided to ease lockdowns across the country on May 9 in a desperate attempt to revive the economy. As of that day, there were almost 30,000 active cases. During the lockdown, cases increased roughly by 1,000 each day. After the government lifted the lockdown, cases began rising rapidly, approximately 5-6,000 daily increase. The government argued that the country could no longer support a strict lockdown due to the millions of daily wagers and people living in poverty who depend on the public and the opening of services to survive.
World Health Organization Encourages Lockdown
Almost every hospital and emergency isolation center are at full capacity with infected patients and the rest closed their doors. Even the World Health Organization expressed concerns, criticizing the Pakistani government in a letter and recommending the imposition of severe lockdowns as soon as possible. The virus shows no signs of stopping and the majority of the population has yet to comprehend the magnitude of this pandemic. With lockdowns out of the question, Pakistan is looking to implement different solutions. One of these solutions revolves around the popular video-sharing app, TikTok.
Pakistani Government Recruits TikTok Stars
TikTok in Pakistan is the most-downloaded social media app, heavily used by children, teenagers and even adults looking to view the latest viral videos to emerge on the app. More than 25.5 million Pakistanis downloaded the app in 2019, becoming the fastest growing social media platform in the country. TikTok users mostly share short clips of lip-syncing and viral dance challenges among a plethora of other content. Popular Pakistani TikTok stars amassed millions of followers who regularly view their content.
Realizing the potential for mass public awareness, the governor of Punjab decided to invite these top TikTok influencers to a meeting. Among those present were Sehar Hayyat, Kanwal Aftab and Zulqurnain Sikandar, who are all massive TikTok stars with considerable fan bases. In the meeting, the influencers discussed with government officials the importance of their roles in raising awareness among Pakistanis and what these influencers can do in order to help stop the spread of both the virus and misinformation.
TikTok in Pakistan Dispels COVID-19 Misinformation
One of the reasons why much of the population takes COVID-19 lightly is due to misinformation. Apart from mixed messages received from the government, many people are adopting a superstitious and apprehensive approach to the pandemic instead of that based on science and medical research. Some, under the influence of certain religious propagandists, adopted a belief that the virus is a conspiracy to shut down religious institutions. Others think that the Pakistani government is trying to publicize an increase in deaths from the virus in a ploy to receive international aid. Many refuse to believe the existence of the virus. Because of these conflicting views, the government realized the need for a uniform policy to inform and educate the population and propagated information via TikTok in Pakistan as one of the solutions.
Some of the ways these TikTokers are raising awareness are by showing techniques to wash hands, telling viewers to use sanitizers and wear masks. They also warn users about the dangers of this virus, urging their fans to stay inside as much as possible, practice social distancing and follow Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P’s) introduced by the government when out in the public. However, the country’s government cannot solely rely on TikTok in Pakistan as a platform for awareness. A large portion of the population lack access to the internet or cannot afford smartphones and hence cannot view these public service announcements on Tiktok.
Additional COVID-19 Education Initiatives in Pakistan
For this reason, the government implemented a number of different initiatives to deal with misinformation in regard to the virus. One of these solutions is a polio eradication call center in Islamabad which expanded to include a COVID-19 helpline. This platform is useful for many people looking to access correct information regarding the virus by connecting with health officials. The center has been receiving an average of 70,000 calls every day since the outbreak. Another initiative that goes by the name “Mask Banao” has been running a popular awareness campaign with a purpose to promote wearing masks in Pakistan. Popular news outlets such as the Washington Post and BBC featured the initiative.
Collectively, these solutions are working to combat the pandemic by tackling misinformation and raising awareness putting emphasis on precaution. As cases reached more than 190,000 as of June 24, these initiatives have been working overtime, putting in a considerable amount of effort into preventing the spread of the virus. Moreover, Pakistani TikTok influencers have been continuing to use their platform for change, hoping that their message will help save countless lives in the days to come.
– Abbas Raza