ONCE again, Eidul Fitr is around the corner. Last year at this time, the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic had not yet peaked in Pakistan. The authorities had perhaps not realised the scale of the devastation the contagion would end up wreaking across the world. Whatever the reason, and despite the misgivings of some provincial administrations that were urging caution, people were allowed to indulge in the customary tradition of shopping for the festival. It proved to be a short-sighted decision that undoubtedly contributed to the spike in cases in the following weeks.

This year, with the ongoing third wave, and having realised the impact that abandoning social-distancing measures can have on the rate of infection transmission, the timings for shops remain curtailed. The National Command and Operation Centre has also announced that during the May 8 to 16 Eid holidays, all retail outlets, aside for those providing everyday necessities or services, will be closed. Tourism has also been suspended, which is just as well because the extended holidays would have encouraged people to throng to holiday spots.

Read: Number of active Covid cases falls by 7pc in less than fortnight

On Monday, Pakistan documented 3,377 cases — the first time in over a month that less than 3,400 cases had been recorded. The very next day, however, the daily tally went up to 4,113. All indications are that we must continue to take full precautions in the coming weeks. Thankfully, the response to the inoculation drive is picking up and on May 3, the number of vaccinations administered in this country was 164,168, the highest so far — bringing the total figure to 2.7m. The near-apocalyptic scenes of Covid-19 ravaging India and making headlines across the world, have almost certainly contributed to people here deciding to take the jab. With the momentum of inoculation picking up, it makes little sense to close the vaccination centres for three days over Eid, as the NCOC is considering. Surely, if the emergency facilities at hospitals can remain open during religious festivals, so can vaccination centres. We are living through exceptional circumstances, and exceptions must be made in response. For many people, the Eid holidays may be the most convenient time to get themselves inoculated. It is also critical that the supply of vaccines does not dry up.

Pakistan may yet again be standing at a crossroads where the pandemic is concerned. The slightest loosening of SOP protocols could send us hurling in the direction where India finds itself today. The decision by the centre and second-tier governments to call on the army’s assistance to enforce SOPs appears to be bearing fruit. According to the NCOC chief Asad Umar, the national average compliance has doubled from 34pc on April 25 to 68pc on May 3. If this is sustained beyond Eid holidays, we could ride out the third wave without our health system buckling.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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