FEARS about a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country turned real this week as coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and the positivity ratio marked increases. SAPM for National Health Services Faisal Sultan said the decline witnessed over the last two months is “clearly reversing” and that positivity had gone up from 3.31pc to 4.16pc within one week. In Punjab, Friday saw 860 cases — the highest reported figure in a day over the last three months — across the province. A report also suggested that cases in Punjab are the highest among people between the ages of 21 and 30. This increase in cases follows the lifting of restrictions across the country a few weeks ago. From educational institutions to indoor weddings, most activities are in full swing — while neither mass testing nor vaccination rollout are meeting satisfactory targets. On March 5, only 38,200 tests were conducted across the country, a figure that is far too low, especially since commercial activities and gatherings are in full swing. Experts and health bodies across the world have said that widely available testing is the only way to gauge the prevalence of the virus and the trends that are developing. But, for some inexplicable reason, the authorities in Pakistan have failed to go beyond 50,000 or so daily tests. The vaccination programme, too, has been unimpressive, with low registration by healthcare workers and lack of clarity from the government about how it will be rolled out. The arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been delayed. What is more alarming is that Pakistan is yet to purchase vaccines; all the vaccines available today, as well as those expected to arrive in the country, are donations by China or Covax.

An urgent vaccination programme should be the top priority. Across the world, countries battered by Covid-19 are looking at phased reopening as the vaccine is administered. People must be informed and protected. The government must do more than simply urge SOP enforcement, especially as the fear of Covid-19 appears to be absent from the public imagination.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021

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