Slowing trajectory?

07 Jul 2020

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AS the official figures for daily new Covid-19 infections fall across the country, the prime minister wants to ensure that transmission rates continue to slow down as Eid approaches. At a visit to the NCOC over the weekend, Mr Khan said there should be strict implementation of SOPs and that officials should undertake the necessary administrative actions for smart lockdowns. He also stressed on the need for a strong awareness campaign to prevent any ‘resurgence’ of the disease during Eidul Azha when animal markets are flooded with purchasers.

The official figures for Covid-19 infections are indeed looking positive, but are in sharp contrast to the trend in most other countries where strict lockdowns are not in place. According to the WHO, the world saw the biggest jump in daily new Covid-19 cases on June 28 with 212,326 cases in 24 hours. Given what we know about the fast transmission of the virus, more clarity is needed on why Pakistan’s official cases are decreasing. This is a question officials and epidemiologists should examine very closely. It may well be that the government’s smart lockdowns have had some effect, and there could be other contributory factors as well. But a report by BBC Urdu, which has yet to be denied or corroborated by the government, revealed that graveyard burial figures from June 2020 in Lahore and Karachi showed a considerable increase when compared to data from the previous year in the same month. While Lahore registered 1,744 deaths in June 2019, this year there were 3,723 — with just 487 recorded officially as Covid-19 deaths. Similarly, in Karachi, burial data in 32 government graveyards showed 2,375 deaths in June 2019 and 3,594 burials in June 2020. Official Covid-19 burials in these graveyards were recorded at 118. An official quoted in the report said some families hide Covid-19 death certificates from graveyard authorities because of the stigma attached, therefore, it is likely that more than 118 were coronavirus deaths. The Edhi Foundation in Karachi, too, lent weight to this insight by saying that morgues processed more than twice the number of bodies in June 2020 than the previous year.

In light of this information and given that testing is far from the promised 100,000 per day, authorities must investigate why the official figures are so low. Why are more burials taking place in graveyards in major cities this year than in the previous year? Is it possible that some of them are uncounted Covid-19 fatalities? Or is there a possibility that patients with other illnesses are succumbing to them because they were reluctant to visit hospitals or seek medical attention? The government must look at the figures and determine whether or not they are linked to Covid-19. It is far too early to be optimistic — especially when there are fears that lockdowns may be relaxed in the run-up to Eid.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2020