‘Pakistan could be following in Italy’s footsteps if gatherings not avoided’

Some health experts are fearful that Pakistan is not doing enough when it comes to curbing the virus.
Updated 18 Mar, 2020 02:27pm

Although educational institutions have been shut down in the capital to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, people are continuing to gather in playgrounds and malls, while the number of people in hospitals has also increased.

With a similar situation being observed across the country, some health experts are fearful that Pakistan is following in Italy’s footsteps, where around 28,000 cases and 2,150 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported to date.

National Institute of Health Executive Director Maj Gen Dr Aamer Ikram told Dawn that the situation could deteriorate as people are not avoiding social gatherings.

Read more: What is 'flattening the curve'?

An official from the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) who asked not to be named said that COVID-19 cases began to be reported in Italy and the United States along the same pattern.

“The US controlled the situation, but Italy could not because it did not announce a timely lockdown. Pakistan may face the same situation as we should have announced a lockdown much earlier,” he said.The official said: “The next three weeks are very crucial for Pakistan; the tally could be in the tens of thousands. We can defeat the virus by taking the precautions suggested by the World Health Organisation and staying at home.”

“It is unfortunate that while schools have been closed, the crowds in grounds and malls have increased. Even the Sindh chief minister has said that people have started visiting Sea View, which is not appropriate,” he added.

Microbiologist Dr Javed Usman agreed that the country is in a critical situation with more than 200 cases reported.

“Gatherings serve as amplification points for such viruses, [as they bring] the multiplier effect into it. People with heart problems, blood pressure and diabetes are more vulnerable to the disease. In Balochistan and most parts of Sindh the population is scattered, so they are also safe,” he said.

Dr Usman suggested that the government designate the Federal General Hospital as the dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients, rather than keeping them at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.

When asked about the situation, Dr Ikram from the NIH said: “People should be careful about their health and hygiene. Rather than buying expensive sanitisers, people should wash their hands with soap. They should take care of their diet and have an ample amount of vitamins as these improve the immune system.”

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2020