Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Wednesday said that the coronavirus situation in the country had become "extremely serious", adding that major cities may be closed down if the current trajectory continues.
Speaking to the media after chairing a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the minister urged the nation to understand the gravity of the situation. "Take care of yourself and your fellow Pakistanis. The situation needs to be taken seriously."
He added that the NCOC had taken decisions on further restrictions which would be shared with the provinces, adding that the steps will most likely be announced on Friday.
"Further restrictions will need to be imposed. Let me make it clear, the level at which the virus is spreading and our hospitals are filling up [...] if we don't act now, we will have no choice but to close down major cities," he warned.
"This is our last chance." He said that major cities were not being closed down right now, adding that there was a "margin of a few days".
"We are hopeful we will not have to take this ultimate step if the public shows cooperation and seriousness, and if the administration is able to play its part. Otherwise, we might not have a choice."
He also appealed to the chief ministers of each province to set aside their political differences and sit down with their health authorities. "We need leadership right now," he said, urging them to inform the public of the gravity of the situation.
Umar began the press conference by listing the positivity rates reported across major cities in Pakistan.
"Yesterday, the positivity rate in Mardan was 33 per cent, 26pc in Peshawar, 20pc in Nowshera, 38pc in Bahawalpur, 25pc in Faisalabad, 27pc in Lahore, 21pc in Multan and 28pc in Rawalpindi.
"Meanwhile in Sindh — which was faring better as the British variant was being reported in the northern parts of the country — the positivity rate in Karachi and Hyderabad was 13pc and 14pc, respectively."
The minister explained that due to a rise in cases, there had also been an uptick in patients going to hospitals.
"The number of patients visiting hospitals on a daily basis has risen from between 100 to 150 to over 600. The condition of some patients further deteriorates once they reach the hospital and they have to be given oxygen," Umar said, adding that the country now had more than 4,500 such patients.
"Last year in June, during the peak of the pandemic, we had approximately 3,400 patients on oxygen. This means there has been a 30pc increase since the first wave of the pandemic."
The minister said that the Centre and the provinces had worked very hard to increase oxygen beds and the capacity of hospitals which is why the situation "was being handled".
"But there are some cities across the country where 80pc of ventilators are in use. This means that if a city has 100 ventilators, 80 of them are being used."
He added that in addition to this, the country was also consuming more than 90pc of the total oxygen produced. "We are seeing the oxygen supply chain increasing to dangerous levels."
Umar highlighted that a similar situation was also being witnessed in other countries in the region, citing the examples of India and Iran.
"Two months ago, India was reporting 14,000 cases. Yesterday, it reported nearly 0.3 million cases in a single day." He added that the number of deaths had gone up from 90 two months ago to 1,761 two days ago.
"So a dangerous wave is being witnessed in the region. We have also seen that a new variant, the double mutant variant, is being reported in India. And that is why we have imposed restrictions on travellers from India," he said.
A day earlier, Umar had said that the country's oxygen supply capacity was under stress, adding that the need for safety precautions was greater than ever.
"Global Covid-19 cases exceeding 750,000 per day and deaths more than 13,000. We are seeing some of the worst numbers since the pandemic started. Our neighborhood [is] in severe crises. Daily deaths in Iran [are] more than 300 and more than 1,600 in India," he said.
"Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4,500, which is 30 per cent higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress," he said, adding the compliance with standard operating procedures (SOPs) remains low.
"We are making a huge mistake by not following SOPs."