Lethal second wave

Published December 27, 2020

PAKISTAN’S second Covid-19 wave saw its deadliest day this week, with 111 deaths reported in 24 hours. These coronavirus-related fatalities, of which 11 were out of hospital, took place just two days before Dec 25 — Christmas and the Quaid’s birthday — holiday events that see a surge in public activity.

Ahead of this, the National Command and Operation Centre had issued guidelines saying that social visits and family get-togethers should be avoided. It urged that Christmas shopping should only be restricted to “minimal essentials” and crowding in markets was not advisable. “The traditional gift exchange and large-scale home gatherings are likely to increase transmission so they should also be avoided.” While such advice was indeed appropriate given the spread of the virus across cities, it is hardly followed. What incentive is there for those celebrating Christmas to follow the rules when there is no enforcement of lockdown, and other mass gatherings such as political rallies and weddings are in full swing?

The graph for coronavirus deaths and new infections in the country is getting more worrisome by the day. The figures are horrific, and point to continuing death and despair. Some 80 to 100 deaths and new cases ranging between 2,000 and 3,000 on average are being reported each day. Unfortunately, testing, which peaked at around 48,000 tests in 24 hours about 10 days ago, has fallen to below 40,000 per day. Why this is so, and why the government is unable to rapidly expand testing, is a mystery. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Pakistan’s daily testing has been abysmally low. For a country of 200m people, our per capita testing rate is among the lowest in the region. At one point this year, the authorities explained away low testing by saying that citizens were not testing enough, which — if true — points to a failure of public health messaging.

The collective response of both federal and provincial authorities has been hugely disappointing in the second wave. A far cry from the success story during the first peak, Pakistan is hurtling towards an abyss as it sleepwalks its way into a crisis that could see its healthcare system collapse.

At the centre, the authorities have utterly failed to convey the seriousness of the pandemic to the public. The Sindh government, of which key members have tested positive, continues to irresponsibly partake in the PDM’s public rallies. In KP, the cases and positivity ratio are climbing as the provincial government ignores WHO advice for a full 15-day lockdown in Peshawar, and opts for ‘smart’ lockdowns instead. The Punjab government’s at-home isolation policy, too, is in tatters as the province leads in the numbers of daily reported Covid-19 deaths and doctors advise a rethink. All around, there is a severe lack of sensible and humane leadership. The citizens and healthcare workers of the country deserve better.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2020

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