High Covid death toll – did Punjab’s home isolation policy backfire?

Published December 25, 2020
The official figures over the last few weeks show a trend of 40-45 Covid deaths daily at the state-run hospitals of Punjab. — AFP/File
The official figures over the last few weeks show a trend of 40-45 Covid deaths daily at the state-run hospitals of Punjab. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The Punjab government’s policy to encourage isolation of Covid-19 patients at their homes seems to have backfired if the official data on the alarming death toll of the pandemic in the province is something to go by.

Under the given policy made on the recommendations of the Corona Experts Advisory Group (CEAG) Punjab, enforced during first wave of the Covid-19 in July, the Punjab government had allowed the coronavirus positive patients to isolate themselves on their own, mainly to ease the enormous burden on the public health facilities across the province.

Since then the government-run hospitals have been reluctant to admit the asymptomatic patients, or those showing mild symptoms, largely leaving the infection management to their ill-equipped and or ill-prepared families.

The official figures over the last few weeks show a trend of 40-45 Covid deaths daily at the state-run hospitals of Punjab. The data obviously excludes those succumbing to the virus at their homes as a majority of such deaths go unreported.

The reports from the hospitals designated for Covid-19 management in Punjab have unveiled that the infection was claiming lives of most of the patients, brought to the public hospitals, within a couple of days of their admission to these facilities.

The doctors mainly blame the delay in the reporting of most of such cases to the hospitals after detection of the virus. They say that such patients were being shifted to the hospitals in an advanced stage of the disease, declaring it one of the prime reasons behind the high death rate in Punjab.

They also believe that in most of the cases, an unnecessary stay of the patients with complications was another reason for the high death rate in the hospitals.

Given these observations, experts suggest the government to revise its ‘home isolation policy’ for Covid patients and encourage admission to hospitals in the province.

On Thursday alone, Punjab reported 51 deaths from the virus, against the 40 recorded in Sindh.

According to the official figures released on Thursday, the death toll in Punjab reached 3,783 while this number was 3,379 in Sindh.

The reports from the Punjab’s hospitals stated that most deaths were occurring within three to four days of the hospitalisation of the patients, mostly reporting with breathing complications caused by critically low oxygen saturation.

“The patients are dying in the early phase of the treatment at hospitals,” Mayo Hospital Chief Executive Prof Dr Asad Aslam confirmed to Dawn. He believed that the delay in hospitalisation of the Covid patients was contributing to the high hospital mortality rate.

The positive patients with severe infection, during their stay at home, were also spreading the virus among other family members, he said.

While defending the Punjab government’s home isolation policy, he suggested to the people to bring patients to hospitals before they developed complications during their stay at home.

“Presently, the Punjab government has made available sufficient arrangements [at hospitals], including beds with ventilators and oxygen supply systems for the critical patients to prevent deaths,” he said.

CEAG Punjab Chairman Prof Mahmood Shaukat, however, said that there was no need to revise the guidelines issued under the home isolation policy, stressing the need for creating awareness among the people about timely hospitalization of Covid patients.

“Mismanagement of a patient during home isolation was one of the reasons behind the recent high death rate in Punjab,” he said.

Prof Shaukat admitted there were reports that Covid-19 patients were being shifted to the public hospitals with their oxygen saturation dropping below 90 percent, and in some cases, even less than 80pc.

He said that according to the official figures, the positivity rate of the virus was not so alarming in Punjab, but the high death rate was definitely a matter of serious concern.

“We have discussed the issue at length in recent meetings of the CEAG and reached the conclusion that people have almost abandoned precautions, [which is] a major cause of the surge in the cases and death rate in Punjab,” Prof Shaukat lamented.

He said that instead of following the government’s directions, people were mostly resorting to traditional ways to deal with the pandemic, looking up to politicians, religious figures and their elders for guidance.

“Unfortunately, politicians were regularly holding public meetings, clerics were violating guidelines, teachers demanding education institutions be made functional, while families were holding weddings and other functions”, the CEAG chairman lamented.

“This is a dilemma of our society that everyone is contributing to the spread of the virus and the CEAG has shown its serious concerns [over the situation] many times in its recent meetings, but to no avail,” Prof Shaukat said.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2020

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