PM’s aide downplays dire WHO warning

Updated 11 Jun 2020

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Says world body is looking at virus situation through ‘health lens’; country reports over 6,000 cases and 100 deaths in 24 hours. — AFP/File
Says world body is looking at virus situation through ‘health lens’; country reports over 6,000 cases and 100 deaths in 24 hours. — AFP/File

• Says world body is looking at virus situation through ‘health lens’
• Country reports over 6,000 cases and 100 deaths in 24 hours
• 23,799 tests conducted in same period

ISLAMABAD: Amid recommendations by the World Health Organisation that an intermittent lockdown should be introduced across the country as the number of cases of the novel coronavirus is increasing rapidly, Pakistan has said WHO is seeing the situation through ‘health lens’, but the government has to look at a number of other aspects before taking such a decision.

Pakistan reported 6,343 Covid-19 cases and 101 deaths during the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 117,172 and fatalities to 2,317.

In a letter, the WHO said Pakistan had been ranked among the top 10 countries in the world reporting the highest number of new cases of Covid-19 and advised the government to enhance daily testing capacity to 50,000 to assess the actual prevalence of coronavirus across the country. As a strategy to help contain the massive transmission of coronavirus, the letter said: “WHO strongly recommends the two weeks off and two weeks on strategy as it offers the smallest curve.”

Referring to the WHO letter, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said Pakistan had been making appropriate policy choices from the beginning keeping in view its national context.

“We started early and took preventive measures with regard to entry of virus from outside through stringent screening at our airports. Our first case was confirmed on Feb 26 while the epidemic was in full swing among our two immediate neighbours many weeks before i.e. China and Iran. While we had 26 cases our prime minister called a meeting of National Security Committee and announced major lockdowns many of which are still enforced e.g. ban on mass gatherings, closure of educational institutions, marriage halls, sports events, etc,” he said in a statement issued here on Wednesday.

“National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), established under the auspices of National Coordination Committee (NCC) for Covid-19, meets every morning at ministerial level and with the help of technical experts review the disease data and trends very minutely and take a holistic view of the situation along with the provinces and develop recommendations for the NCC that is chaired by the prime minister and participated by all the chief ministers and the prime minister of AJK. All decisions are made in NCC with consensus,” he added.

The SAPM said Pakistan was the sixth largest country in the world and the largest country in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region which consisted of 22 countries.

“We are a low middle income country with 2/3rd population dependent on daily incomes. Conscious of the disease spread and mortality and having put in place a very robust national coordinating and decision making mechanism at the highest level, we have made best sovereign decisions in the best interest of our people. We have to make tough policy choices to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods. We have consciously but gradually eased generalised lockdowns but at the same time we have focused on enforcement of SOPs [standard operating procedures] in shops, industry, mosques, public transport, etc,” he said.

“Mask donning has been made compulsory in the country. Along with this we have developed a robust tracing, testing and quarantine policy to identify hotspots and cordon off them. Currently, there are more than 700 such smart lockdowns in place. Other plank of our strategy is ramping up of our health system capacity to cater to the growing number of patients. Our choice of policies has been guided by the best evidence available about the disease spread and our best assessment of the fast deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the country,” he added.

Dr Mirza said: “WHO is a UN specialised technical agency on health and they are our long-standing partner in health including in this pandemic which we appreciate. We understand that it is their role to provide recommendations to member states but understandably theirs is the health-lens whereas governments have to take into account a holistic picture and make decisions on relative risk assessment basis and this has been the case in Pakistan all along.”

Beds and ventilators

According to the NCOC data, the total number of beds allocated for Covid-10 patients in Sindh is 8,094, of which 548 are with oxygen, while 304 ventilators are available in the province. However, 83 patients were on ventilators on Wednesday.

In Punjab, there are 9,275 simple beds dedicated for Covid-19 patients, of which beds with oxygen are 3,500. There are 387 ventilators in the province and 159 patients were on them on Wednesday.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5,110 beds have been allocated for Covid-19 patients, of which 628 are with oxygen facility, besides 313 ventilators. However, 70 patients were on ventilators on Wednesday.

In Balochistan, the total number of beds stands at 2,148, of which 68 are with oxygen. Twenty-nine ventilators are available in the province, but not a single patient was on ventilator on Wednesday.

In Islamabad, 520 beds have been allocated for Covid-19 patients, of which 262 are with oxygen. There are 94 ventilators in the capital and 10 patients were on ventilators on Wednesday.

In Azad Kashmir, 379 beds, including 68 with oxygen facility, and 43 ventilators have been dedicated for the Covid-19 victims, but no patient was on ventilator on Wednesday.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, the total number of beds stands at 151, of which 43 are with oxygen. There are 28 ventilators in the province, but no patient was on ventilator on Wednesday.

According to the NCOC data, as many as 23,799 tests were conducted during the last 24 hours. Moreover, 250 additional ventilators have been sent to the provinces.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2020