More than 100,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded, health authorities said on Monday, as hospitals warned they are running out of beds to treat patients.
Pakistan — and neighbouring India and Afghanistan — have lagged behind Western nations in virus tolls, but experts warn a lack of testing or accurate reporting in rural areas could be hiding true figures.
In recent weeks, however, a sharp rise in new infections has been reported, and on Monday the government said more than 100,000 cases and 2,000 deaths had now been recorded.
Last week, a leaked government report suggested there were nearly 700,000 infections in Lahore alone. Doctors at several main hospitals in provincial capital told AFP they were running out of beds, ventilators and other vital equipment.
“As the cases increase, more health care workers are also falling victim to the virus,” said Farooq Sahil, a doctor at Services Hospital Lahore.
Khizer Hayat, chairman of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab chapter, said facilities across the province needed help.
“Hospitals are running out of beds; there aren't enough ventilators given to us,” he told AFP.
In Karachi, health centres are turning away the sick, with a large sign near the entrance of Indus Hospital stating there was no room for coronavirus patients.
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, who heads the national coronavirus task force, said on Monday a package to relieve pressure on hospitals was being finalised and would include 1,000 new beds in major cities.
The government's lockdown policy has been patchy at best, with Prime Minister Imran Khan reluctant to call a nationwide shutdown in order to protect the economy.
“The crisis is unfolding now as we have ceased to observe isolation,” said Sikander Ali Memon, who is leading Sindh province's anti-virus efforts.
In Balochistan, government spokesman Liaqat Shahwani told AFP the situation was serious, and authorities were struggling to cope.
Govt cracks down on safety breaches
The government lifted its lockdown last month but promulgated protocols for the reopening of markets, industries and public transport — including mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing.
“First we educated the masses about the protocols, then we warned them, and now, in the last meeting with the prime minister in the chair, we directed administrations to crack down on places protocols are not being followed,” Umar said in a news conference at the weekend.
Many markets and shops have been sealed because of non-compliance over the last few days, he said.
Pakistan has been setting records for the number of new daily infections over the last 10 days, partly reflecting increased testing.
But of the 23,000 tests daily, more than 1 in 5 have been positive over the last 10 days. Before the lockdown was lifted on May 9, the number of tests finding the coronavirus was approximately 1 in 10, government statistics show.
Government officials say safety protocols are not being followed, particularly since just before Eidul Fitr.
The decision to lift the lockdown on May 9 despite increasing infections of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness Covid-19, was prompted by a worsening economic crisis and unemployment.
Pakistan is the 16th country to exceed 100,000 infections, a Reuters tally showed. The virus spread has yet to peak, officials say.