• Country rises to 23rd position with over 1,500 deaths from coronavirus
• Lockdown not under active consideration
• Govt expects impact of SOPs violations during Eid to be felt by mid-June
ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan is set to surpass China among the most affected pandemic-hit countries with a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases, a crucial meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) to be presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan will be held on Monday (today) to decide the future strategy though the federal government has already declared that the lockdown option is not under active consideration.
“(The) Lockdown option is always on the table, but it is not under active consideration,” said federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, who is also the head of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), during a briefing to a group of TV anchors with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and other senior government officials here on Sunday.
Referring to the calls by the opposition parties and the Sindh government, headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), for imposing a strict lockdown, the minister claimed that so far the federal government had not received any request from the provinces to impose lockdown.
Mr Umar informed the gathering that all the four chief ministers would first attend the NCOC meeting to be held on Monday morning and then they would also be attending the NCC meeting later in the day.
The briefing with the help of a presentation highlighting the projected and actual figures with respect to Covid-19 was made to the senior TV anchors on the day when the number of affected persons crossed 71,000 mark and Pakistan became the 23rd country to register more than 1,500 deaths from coronavirus.
Asked as to at which point the government would consider imposing lockdown, the minister replied that the lockdown could only happen, when they saw the country’s healthcare system getting overwhelmed which, according to him, was not the case at present.
He said they were expecting that the impact of the violations of the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) committed by the people during the Eid days would be felt by mid-June.
‘Early lockdown was a mistake’
Responding to another query, Mr Umar said in his opinion they had committed a “mistake” by imposing the lockdown too early and too severe.
The minister said the government was aggressively pursuing the TTQ (Tracking, Testing and Quarantine) policy. Moreover, he said, the tracking and testing software was being upgraded and the screening system at the airports was being improved.
Earlier, the NCOC in its meeting sought to engage markets associations for the implementation of Covid-19 guidelines and SOPs in letter and spirit.
Chairing another meeting, Mr Umar said shopkeepers should strictly implement “no mask, no service” policy.
Peak time yet to come
Meanwhile, a senior government official on condition of anonymity said they were expecting a peak time of the pandemic in the country sometimes between the end of June and mid-July.
Giving future projection, he said they were expecting that the number of Covid-19 cases would be between 110,000 and 125,000, with the death toll ranging between 2,750 and 3,250 by the mid of June.
Talking to Dawn, federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz while expressing his serious concern over the rise in the Covid-19 cases in the country said the government was considering to introduce a system of “collective punishment” for those who would violate the SOPs.
“There are two options available to the government. Either to go for a lockdown, which we don’t want to, or to ensure strict compliance of SOPs through punitive actions against violators,” he said.
Elaborating, the minister said that the whole market or a shopping mall could be closed for a certain period of time if violation of SOPs was found. Similarly, he said, the traffic police would be able to challan any public transport vehicle if passengers were found without masks.
Responding to a question, Senator Faraz said there had been no decision so far to allowing reopening of marriage halls. However, he added the issue would be discussed with the provinces in the meetings to be held today.
During the briefing, the participants with the help of slides were informed that the number of coronavirus patients and deaths due to the pandemic were still lower than the projected figures.
According to the estimates, the government was expecting 97,611 Covid-19 cases in the country by May 30, but the actual number of reported cases was 66,457. – 32 per cent less than expected. Similarly, the projected number of deaths due to the pandemic by May 30 was 2,266, but the country registered 1,395 deaths by May 30, which is 34 per cent less than the projected figure.
The participants were informed that so far only 24 per cent of the total available ventilators in the private and public sector hospitals had been utilised. The rate of recovery among patients on ventilator is between 10 and 20 per cent.
According to the data provided at the briefing, out of total 4,095 ventilators available in the country, 3,188 are still vacant. The data shows that Peshawar is currently utilising 51 per cent of the 167 available ventilators as there are 71 patients, including 33 non-Covid-19 patients, on ventilators.
Out of 1,523 ventilators ordered, Pakistan is likely to receive 897 ventilators in June.
The participants were told that at present smart lockdown was in place in 550 localities where the Covid-19 cases are in large numbers. As many as 334 smart lockdowns are in place in 16 districts of Punjab, 222 in 19 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, nine in three districts of AJK, eight in I-10 sector of Islamabad and seven in three districts of Sindh.
They were also told that the curve showing Covid-19 cases in South Asia was almost flattened and it was not as steep as it was in other countries affected by the pandemic.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020