Pakistan may soon cross peak of first wave as cases surge

Published March 28, 2021
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar addresses the media on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar addresses the media on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV

• Minister warns of tougher restrictions
• NCOC reports highest cases in last nine months
• British variant affects subcontinent
• Vaccinated citizens can obtain certificates

ISLAMABAD: As the British variant of Covid-19 rages across the subcontinent, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar on Saturday warned that the country could soon surpass the peak witnessed in the first wave due to continued violation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and slow pace of vaccination.

The country reported 4,468 new cases during the last 24 hours, which was the highest single day rise in nine months. The number of casualties was recorded at 67 with the national positivity ratio climbing to 10pc.

On the other hand, Director General Health Dr Rana Safdar hopes that the continued mutation in the virus might lead it to become a harmless pathogen.

According to an official statement, in the wake of an alarmingly high increase in cases, the National Command and Opera­tion Centre (NCOC) held an exclusive session with Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The session was chaired by Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, and attended by Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and the health secretaries of both provinces.

“Grave concern was shown on the virus spread and massive disregard of Covid-19 SOPs by the general population. Pro­vinces were requested to ensure implementation of the SOPs through strict administrative actions. Further actions to curb the disease spread were considered. A follow-up session with the provincial chief secretaries will be held on Sunday (today) for consideration of additional measures for disease control,” the statement said.

It further stated that “concern was shown on slower rate of vaccination. Senior citizens, above 70 years of age, are req­u­e­sted to visit any nearby vaccination centre along with the CNIC to get on-spot vaccination. Citizens from 60-70 years of age are being vaccinated by scheduling through the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS).”

During a media briefing, Asad Umar warned that by next week the situation could worsen and cross the level of the first wave, which was observed in June 2020, forcing the government to impose tougher restrictions.

It may be mentioned here that June proved to be the worst month when Covid-19 started to spread last year. On most days of the month, the number of positive cases was more than 5,000. In the middle of June the daily count went over 6,000, peaking on June 14 when 6,682 new cases were detected.

The minister said the British variant was spreading rapidly and had affected the entire subcontinent – Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, adding that the number of critical patients had increased by 1,000 during the last 12 days.

He said he was already getting messages that hospitals were nearing their full capacity and soon availability of beds might become an issue.

“I am not sharing it to create fear but I want to make sure that the nation will act together. We need to know that the situation can affect livelihood of people. I decided to hold a presser as people are not aware of the situation. The British variant of the virus has been rapidly spreading in the whole subcontinent – Pakistan, India and Bangladesh,” he said.

The minister appealed to the government and opposition leaders to show leadership and play their role in combating the virus.

As vaccination certificate will soon become a necessary travel document just like polio certificate, Mr Umar said people in Pakistan could also get the certificates.

“COVID Immunisation certificate issuance portal has been launched across the country today. citizen’s whose vaccination process is complete (both doses) can now download COVID Immunisation Certificate from https://nims.nadra.gov.pk or get it issued by visiting NADRA Mega Centres,” the minister tweeted.

Meanwhile, Director General Health Dr Rana Safdar told Dawn that mutation in DNA viruses was quite natural.

“Due to mutation, there is a possibility that in future we may get a pathogen which is harmless to people. The British variant has more transmissibility. In the past it was often seen that only one person in a family was infected while the rest remained safe. However, now entire families were contracting the virus but the good thing is that there is no evidence the variant caused more serious disease,” he said.

Dr Safdar said the coronavirus was continuously replicating itself since it first arrived in Mirpur and then spread to Kotli and Bhimber, adding that the virus then reached Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar.

“Finally it was detected in Gujranwala and Lahore and now is prevalent in Multan. Similar health guidelines need to be followed for the new variant as in the case of the old virus,” he said, adding that unfortunately people are not following SOPs and proudly boast of getting the duration of their wedding events extended through their contacts, instead of feeling bad for putting the lives of their family members and friends at risk,” he said.

According to the NCOC data, 4,468 people got infected and 67 died in a single day. As many as 394 patients were on ventilators while the number of active cases had reached 42,384. Moreover, 3,426 patients were admitted to hospitals across the country.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman expressed her concern over the slow pace of vaccination.

“Pakistan vaccinating the least number of people in South Asia. Why? As the virus surges dangerously, no coherent mass roll-out of the vaccine is visible. Protecting people’s lives is the first responsibility of govts, not physically sitting in media narrative mtgs while covid +,” she tweeted.

Pakistan ranks at 31 in terms of total number of Covid-19 infections but conducts the least number of tests per million of its population from among the top 31 infected nations, says a research conducted by Policy Pak – an Islamabad-based policy research organisation.

According to the research, as of March 27, there are 32 nations in the world having more than 600,000 infections. Pakistan stands at 31 with 649,824 total infections till date. However, nations in the top 32 category have conducted more tests compared to Pakistan which has carried out 44,733 tests per million of its population. Indonesia and Mexico have carried out 45,069 and 46,223 tests per million of their populations, respectively, which is slightly more than Pakistan. The Philippines has conducted the least tests which number around 90,000 per million.

All of Pakistan’s direct neighbours except Afghanistan – India, Iran, China and Oman (maritime neighbour) – have conducted way more tests, the research said.

In case of Afghanistan, the total number of infections is insignificant compared to global prevalence, with just over 50,000 infections till date.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2021

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