Gatherings the main cause of Covid-19 spread: PM’s aide

Updated 22 Oct 2020

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Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan addresses a press conference on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan addresses a press conference on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: Gatherings are the main cause of the spread of Covid-19, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services (NHS) Dr Faisal Sultan told a Senate committee on Wednesday.

While briefing the Senate Standing Committee on NHS, Dr Sultan claimed that educational institutions were following standard operating procedure (SOP) to limit the spread of Covid-19.

However, the committee, which is headed by PPP Senator Sikandar Mandhro, recommended that the Ministry of NHS take measures to ensure masks are available to the public for free or, if that is not possible, at least take steps to ensure their affordability.

The committee was discussing a matter of public importance raised by PTI Senator Zeeshan Khanzada titled ‘Outbreak of Coronavirus and Precautionary Measures in Pakistan’, which was referred to the committee for consideration.

The NHS ministry informed senators that Covid-19 cases have risen by 2.4pc which, while not alarming, must be taken seriously.

Dr Sultan said the provinces should take stringent measures to ensure Covid-19 SOP is implemented.

The committee disposed of the matter with a recommendation to provide the best possible relief to the public.

It also took up the grant of budget honoraria arrears to medical and paramedical staff working at the Parliament House dispensary, which was announced by the finance minister for employees working within the corridors of parliament. The committee took notice of the summary, which has been pending for 11 months.

Dr Sultan said he would look into the matter personally and ensure it is sorted out as soon as possible.

The Committee directed that all correspondence and documentation regarding this issue must be submitted to the committee and representatives of the Economic Coordination Committee and the Ministry of Finance must be summoned.

Deliberating over the issue of transfers of doctors in Polyclinic, the committee was assured that all the details would be submitted to the committee within two weeks.

Meanwhile, speaking at the launch of a report titled Pakistan’s Fight Against Covid-19 by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad, the special assistant said there has already been a slight but definitive rise in Covid-19 cases, but the second wave, or the so-called winter pandemic, can be avoided with the right efforts and precautions.

He added that the threat of Covid-19 is ever-present, and with respiratory diseases traditionally gaining momentum in the winter, caution is even more necessary.

Dr Sultan was He said that the initial polar public perception has transformed into unipolar perception in favour of ‘smart lockdowns’. He added that other countries with a similar socioeconomic infrastructure have not fared well, in addition to countries where federal structures have been devolved.

Regarding a vaccine for Covid-19, Dr Sultan said that if and when a vaccine is available Pakistan will prioritise subsets of the population first, such as people who are high risk or are frontline workers.

“We have to carefully allocate resources for vaccination as Pakistan does not have sufficient resources to invest in all the global vaccination efforts. The advantage Pakistan has is that our polio vaccination teams can quickly and efficiently inoculate the population, though unlike polio, it will not be a simultaneous, mass effort,” he said.

The CRSS report said that Pakistan had, against all forecasts and odds, bent the Covid-19 curve in its favour.

Broadly speaking, the creation of a central mechanism for all coordination, collation, decision-making and implementation in the form of the National Command and Operation Centre, piggybacking on the polio surveillance network, and dramatically ramping up healthcare infrastructure resulted in a strong response to the pandemic.

Despite the demonstrable success of curbing mechanisms, this is no time to celebrate or drop our collective guard, Dr Sultan said.

“The threat of the Covid-19 pandemic is very real and ever-present. Continued caution and stringent adherence to Covid-19 [standard operating procedure] are crucial to ensure the current situation stays under control. Without vigilance from every member of the general public, and continued pressure from the government, this disease could spread easily and wreak havoc,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2020