MORE than 4,000 cases have been reported across the country over 24 hours, a foreboding benchmark that was last surpassed when Pakistan hit its first peak in summer last year.

The national positivity ratio has crossed 10pc — that means that one out of every 10 Covid-19 tests are positive. In some cities, the positivity rate is reportedly even higher. While the first wave saw an alarming number of cases in Sindh, this time the virus is spreading fast throughout Punjab. According to the NCOC, the cities where the highest number of ‘oxygen beds’ are occupied are Gujrat, Gujranwala, Peshawar and Islamabad. In Multan and Lahore, the percentage of ventilators being used by Covid-19 patients is also climbing.

Social media is once again seeing an increased number of accounts reporting people being critically ill. The situation is looking grimmer than before and appears to be the result of widespread public violations of SOPs and an overall devil-may-care attitude towards the pandemic.

It is disappointing that despite the success of the NCOC in flattening the curve in the past, the situation today appears to be spiralling out of control. The body must play to its strengths and effectively implement restrictions before the healthcare infrastructure in Punjab collapses. Covid-19 does not appear to be registering as a serious and lethal threat to members of the public.

What is also disappointing is that the prime minister himself flouted internationally advised SOPs, when, despite being infected with the virus, he invited members of his media team for a meeting in a closed room at his residence. It is even more bizarre that the information minister felt it was prudent to share a photo of this meeting on social media, a decision that elicited shock and justified criticism levelled at the top members of the government. If the holder of the highest office in the country is not in strict quarantine despite being infected, the message being sent to members of the public is that Covid-19 is not to be taken seriously.

This is unacceptable. The virus has wreaked havoc globally, and while Pakistan has been fortunate to have had to grapple with fewer cases than many countries in the West, it also has a much weaker healthcare infrastructure than these countries. Though the vaccine programme has raised hope, it will have to be matched with the right messaging about Covid-19 prevention. Even with a successful vaccination programme, prevention and SOPs are essential.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2021

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