FEARS regarding a spike in Covid-19 cases across the country are escalating, with senior government officials and the prime minister himself warning of a crippling second wave if precautions are not taken. Federal minister and chair of the NCOC Asad Umar said the daily Covid-19 mortality rate last week climbed to 12 — a 140pc increase as compared to earlier. In a stark warning, he said that if people continued to violate SOPs “we will lose both lives and livelihoods”. Furthermore, a press release issued by the NCOC said two days in the last week have seen daily deaths at 16 and 14 — grim figures which suggest that the virus is spreading. The prime minister, too, expressed fears that Covid-19 infections can climb in the winter months as smog levels increase and respiratory illnesses are triggered.
The situation is indeed worrying, yet if one were to venture outdoors to any public space, the lax attitude of the public as well as politicians and some members of government would appear shocking to say the least. Not only are the basic protocols of mask-wearing, distancing and sanitising being ignored, public gatherings are in full swing. Wedding functions, political rallies, conferences and government-held events are taking place as if the coronavirus pandemic is a thing of the past. This behaviour is appalling, especially given how serious the authorities were earlier and how successfully they prevented an all-out disaster in the summer months. This casual approach to Covid-19 simply cannot continue. Neither is it enough that the government is issuing warnings, and pleading with people to adhere to the SOPs. The human rights minister observed that people have stopped wearing masks in all public places and correctly framed this attitude as “an act of extreme selfishness” as it endangers others as well as the careless individual. However, going by the rising infections, such condemnations and Twitter reprimands are not having the desired effect. Daily testing at a maximum of about 30,000 is not enough for a population of 200m. Testing must be increased and made accessible. The messaging from the government, too, must be re-energised, for it appears that the risk of contracting Covid-19 is largely absent from the public imagination. The government should focus on Covid-19 prevention as a priority, and build on the strengths which helped lower infections in the first round, lest it sleepwalk into a disaster which will have a disastrous impact on the health of citizens, the healthcare sector and the economy.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020