• PM’s aide claims 70m people will be vaccinated by end of year
• Says Pakistan to begin producing single-dose CanSino Bio vaccine locally
• 79 deaths, 4,213 cases reported in a single day
ISLAMABAD: After a continuous rise in Covid-19 cases for almost three months, a downward trend was finally witnessed on Monday as both the positivity ratio and number of cases declined.
However, experts believe that Pakistan has been facing the situation similar to that of last Ramazan and the number of cases may increase again if people violated the coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) as they did during the Eid holidays last year.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said the government vowed to vaccinate 70 million people by the end of the current year.
According to data released by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), 79 deaths and 4,213 cases were reported in a single day. As many as 670 ventilators were in use and the number of active cases, which had surpassed the figure of 90,000 last week, stood at 87,953 on Monday.
During the third wave of Covid-19 in February, the number of daily cases and positivity ratio stood at around 1,000 and three per cent, respectively. The trend started moving upward as 6,127 cases were reported on April 17, while the positivity ratio surpassed 11pc. However, the number of daily cases and positivity ratio have been declining since last week.
Microbiologist Prof Dr Javaid Usman, while talking to Dawn, agreed that the country was witnessing a downward trend but warned that things could be worse during upcoming Eid holidays.
“During last Ramazan we were moving in a similar manner as cases were decreasing, but during Eid holidays people went to their native areas and parks and had get-together due to which cases suddenly started increasing and the situation got out of control. The rise in Covid-19 cases continued till June 2020,” he said.
“However, this year a good thing is that the government has already banned intercity public transports, closed parks and has been asking people to stay home. If these measures are implemented in letter and spirit, the downward trend in cases would continue. Otherwise, things can become worse,” he said.
Dr Usman said the mutation in virus could be stopped only if circulation of the virus would be stopped. “Since virus has been rapidly multiplying, it is feared that it may mutate to an extent where vaccine would become ineffective. So we need to achieve herd immunity at the earliest by vaccinating over 70pc population. The United Kingdom has announced that it will achieve the herd immunity by November 2021,” he said.
University of Health Sciences (UHS) Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram, while talking to Dawn, said it was correct that the number of cases started declining, but it would be too early to say that Pakistan had hit the peak.
“I suggest that the government should go for further curbs to control the virus. Covid-19 is relatively a bigger virus and it has 39,000 possible positions for mutation. During the last one year, the virus’s capability of attaching with lungs has increased three times, so I believe we should increase the precautions three times,” he said.
In reply to a question, Dr Akram agreed that people had started following the SOPs during the last few weeks. “It has happened because of the situation in India. People have been watching that the virus is killing thousands of people daily in India. So they have started following guidelines. Anyhow, it is good for them to learn lesson from others instead of facing the same situation,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan claimed that 70 million people would be vaccinated by the end of this year. He said that currently nearly 150,000 people were being vaccinated daily and the target was to reach 300,000 daily.
“Registration of people over 40 years was started last week and vaccination started today (May 3). The government initiated negotiations with vaccine manufacturers and Gavi/Covax in July 2020. This is well before any vaccine had been fully developed and approved. The Economic Coordination Committee approved $150 million for vaccine procurement on Nov 20, 2020 and the cabinet confirmed this on Dec 1, 2020,” he said.
“It is important to remember that vaccines did not get approved for use until mid or late December such as Pfizer approved on Dec 11 and AstraZeneca on Dec 30, while Sinopharm completed phase-III trials in the same month,” he said.
The SAPM said Pakistan would receive 19.82 million doses during the first half of the current year. “Ninety-one per cent of these doses are purchased, which clearly shows that we are not dependent on donations. We have already signed deals for over 30 million doses. The population of Pakistan, which is currently eligible for vaccination, is 100 million out of 220 million because vaccines have only been approved for those above 18 years of age. Our goal is to vaccinate 70 million people by the end of 2021,” he said.
Dr Sultan said: “Manufacturers like AstraZeneca and Moderna have been unable to meet demand. Even some of the richest countries like Australia and Canada have slowed down or halted their vaccine rollout. On the other hand, some of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing countries have imposed embargos on exporting vaccines until their local demand is met.
“No matter how much money you are willing to spend you can’t buy more than what’s available. This is why I am extremely proud to share that Pakistan will begin producing the single-dose CanSino Bio vaccine locally. Due to the agreement on technology transfer, the National Institute of Health will be able to produce three million doses per month. It will significantly reduce our dependence on other countries and Pakistan will become largely self-sufficient in meeting its vaccine needs.”
The SAPM said China was a strong partner and had gone out of its way in keeping up a supply chain and transferring technology to Pakistan.
He said it was unfair to compare Pakistan with countries like the United States and India which were self-sufficient in vaccine production.
“As I shared, we are certainly moving in that direction now, but so far Pakistan does not have the capacity for vaccine production. Even so, it’s important to remember that Pakistan’s vaccine rollout began very soon after India’s. The first vaccine dose was administered in India on Jan 16 and that in Pakistan on Feb 2.
“Some have drawn comparisons to countries in the region with smaller economies, e.g. Bhutan which has vaccinated over 60pc of its population. Bhutan has a population of almost 750,000 which means they have vaccinated around 500,000 people. Pakistan has a population of 220 million and we have vaccinated over 2.5 million people. So Pakistan has vaccinated five times as many people as Bhutan actually and, in fact, three times the whole population of Bhutan. Therefore, please be careful when you come across such comparisons,” he said.
“We shall continue to take additional precautions of limiting public space and enforcing SOPs to slow down the spread of disease. We trust that media will continue to support the government wholeheartedly in the fight against Covid-19,” Dr Sultan said.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2021