ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Tuesday said the Covid-19 situation in Pakistan was much better than that of countries in the region, but cautioned that if people showed laxity in precautions, the country could go down the same path as its neighbours.

Addressing a press conference, Mr Umar said the positivity rate as per tests in Pakistan was around three per cent, whereas it was 9.4pc in Iran and 9.8pc in India. Similarly, he said, in Bangladesh, the positivity rate stood at 23-24pc which was eight times higher than Pakistan.

According to international data, the number of positive cases in India is seven times higher than Pakistan — almost 2.3 million — while in Iran, over 331,000 cases have been reported.

In India, 33 deaths per million people have been recorded, whereas the figure in Pakistan is 28 deaths per million. The ratio in Afghanistan is 34 deaths per million.

In India, 8,944 patients are critical whereas in Pakistan, the number is 780.

Appreciates people for their cooperation, says ‘micro smart lockdowns’ to be enforced

Similarly, in India, there are over 643,000 active cases in comparison to less than 18,000 in Pakistan. The number of active cases in Bangladesh, meanwhile, was 108,060, an international website said on Tuesday.

“If we compare the number of deaths over the last 10 to 12 days, Iran has reported 20 times more deaths in comparison to Pakistan while India has recorded around four to five times more deaths. If we look at the figures for Monday, India has had 10 times more fatalities than Pakistan,” Asad Umar said.

The minister said the difference was huge and continuously increasing.

“The virus has been controlled due to the efforts of the people, but if we stop being careful, cases might rise again. For the last few days, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had been observing that people were not following the standard operating procedures (SOPs), especially at tourist spots,” he regretted.

The minister said the pandemic was not just a health issue but also an economic one. “When we had to close the country, we saw a decrease of over 40pc in our exports. Similarly, remittances fell to around 40pc, which is equal to 40pc employment in the country. Even for the middle class, the situation became hard after four to five weeks of the shutdown,” he said, adding that “without these remittances, how can we build dams and motorways”.

The minister said it was not difficult to take precautions as all one had to do was wear masks and maintain distance. He said the NCOC had directed the provincial chief secretaries to ensure SOPs were followed and cases did not increase.

Pakistan’s cases and deaths were not as high as had been projected earlier, he said.

As per estimates on Aug 10, 78,000 Pakistanis were to be infected with most number of deaths, but only 15 deaths were reported out of 531 people who tested positive, the minister said, adding that it became possible because of the trace, test and quarantine (TTQ) policy under which contacts of infected patients were traced and quarantined.

“So far we have traced 1.1 million people through the TTQ system and tested over a million. More than 100,000 patients from among the country’s positive cases were identified through TTQ. These people benefitted from early treatment and took precautions which prevented the virus from spreading,” he added.

Mr Umar claimed that the government had managed to reach 10.8 people from one contact, adding that Pakistan’s contact tracing was comparable to South Korea, and termed it a ‘world-class system’.

He linked the reduction in the number of cases to the government’s smart lockdown strategy. More than 2,350 smart lockdowns were enforced across the country with at least 85 still in place in 20 districts, he added.

“We are going towards micro smart lockdowns,” the minister said. Explaining the new strategy, he said it meant that only certain houses would be placed under lockdown instead of the entire areas.

Mr Umar appreciated the people for cooperating with the government, saying they were the most important factor behind the lowering of cases. A big section of society helped the government by taking precautions, he said.

The minister also thanked media for the way it informed people who then took the necessary precautions. “The improvement you see is because the government and people took decisions together and followed them. I am confident that people will not let this victory go to waste,” he added.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2020