Major cities may be closed if Covid situation worsens

Published April 22, 2021
People wait their turn to receive the second shot of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Peshawar on April 21. — AP
People wait their turn to receive the second shot of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Peshawar on April 21. — AP

• Minister fears situation might get out of control
• 500,000 vaccine doses arrive, 1.5m expected soon
• Over 5,000 new patients surface, 148 die in single day
• Positivity rate crosses 11pc

ISLAMABAD: With the national positivity ratio of Covid-19 surpassing 11 per cent, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Wednesday said more restrictions could be announced on Friday, hinting at closing down major cities if the current trend continued.

On the other hand, the decision to place more countries on the category C list was deferred till Friday as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan could not attend the meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).

In another development, 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine reached Pakistan on Wednesday, with another 1.5 million expected in the next few days.

Meanwhile, priority registration of healthcare workers for vaccination has resumed and will remain open till April 30.

According to the NCOC data, 5,499 new cases and 148 deaths were reported in a single day as the positivity rate reached 11.62pc.

The number of active cases stood at 83,162 as of April 21, with 5,350 patients under treatment in hospitals across the country.

Over 80pc ventilators were in use in Mardan, Gujranwala, Multan and Lahore.

Talking to Dawn, Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, said: “We have reached the edge and the situation can get out of control anytime. The cities which are under pressure include Lahore, Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Faisalabad, Multan and Rawalpindi. Islamabad is still included in the list of safe cities.” When asked about the situation in Sindh, the minister said it was deteriorating.

“Two months ago Karachi’s positivity ratio was just 2pc but on Wednesday it was recorded at 13pc and 14pc in Hyderabad,” he said, adding that there might not be a need to make an official announcement of closing down cities as everything would automatically come to a halt if the current trend persisted.

Mr Umar said 500,000 doses arrived from China on Wednesday and around 1.5 million more would reach in a few days.

He further said so far over 1.6 million people had been inoculated.

When asked if the NCOC had taken the decision to put more countries on the category C list to prevent possible entry of the Indian virus into the country, the minister said due to the absence of Dr Sultan [who went to Peshawar with Prime Minister Imran Khan] the decision had been deferred till Friday.

It is worth mentioning that the NCOC on April 19 had placed India in category C and banned the entry of inbound passengers from the country for two weeks. The forum had also announced that it would consider imposing similar restrictions on some other countries on Wednesday.

Earlier, speaking at a news conference, Mr Umar said that due to the worsening situation of coronavirus, the government might shut down major cities.

He urged people to take care of themselves and their fellow citizens, adding that more restrictions could be announced on Friday as hospitals were finding it difficult to cope with the rising number of patients.

“This is our last chance. We are not closing major cities right now but we have a margin of just 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 have no choice,” the minister said.

He appealed to the chief ministers to set aside their differences and sit down with the health authorities as their leadership was required.

“Yesterday, the positivity rate in Mardan was 33pc, 26pc in Peshawar, 20pc in Nowshera, 38pc in Bahawalpur, 25pc in Faisalabad, 27pc in Lahore, 21pc in Multan and 28pc in Rawalpindi,” he said, adding that the number of patients visiting hospitals daily had risen from 150 to over 600.

“Last year in June, during the peak of the pandemic, we had approximately 3,400 patients on oxygen but now there are more than 4,500,” he said.

Mr Umar said the country was consuming more than 90pc of the total oxygen produced and warned that the demand could increase further.

He said the region, such as India and Iran, was facing a similar situation.

“Two months ago, India was reporting 14,000 cases. Yesterday (Tuesday), it reported nearly 0.3 million cases in a single day. Two months ago the number of daily deaths in India was 90 but it increased to 1,761 two days ago. The region is witnessing a dangerous wave. We have also seen that a new strain – the double mutant variant – is being reported in India, which is why we have imposed curbs on travellers from India,” Mr Umar said.

According to the NCOC statement, the forum was briefed about the third wave of the virus that was affecting the country.

“With an increase of 4,000 to 5,000 cases daily, pressure is mounting on the healthcare facilities across the country. Hospital admissions and bulk requirements of oxygenated beds has increased manifold while 91pc oxygen produced in the country is already being consumed, with a major share going to hospitals,” the statement said.

Expressing concern on the rising number of cases, the NCOC meeting said people were not taking the situation seriously and violating standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“If the current rate of transmission persists, the NCOC will consider locking down major cities,” Asad Umar said, adding that the forum had stressed on the provincial administrations to ensure health guidelines were followed.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant Dr Faisal Sultan said priority registration of healthcare workers, which was halted on March 17, was being resumed.

“To give opportunity to all remaining healthcare workers to get vaccinated, registration portal (http://Covid.gov.pk/vaccine) has been re-opened till 30 April. Visit portal and register by following instructions,” he tweeted.

The situation in hospitals was deteriorating as a large number of healthcare workers had been infected, with some major hospitals, including Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), suspending all elective surgeries as it had become impossible to cater to both emergency and routine patients. Pakistan Medical Association General Secretary Dr Qaisar Sajjad has appreciated the decision of starting priority registration for vaccination of healthcare workers.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021

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