Eidul Azha seen as next big test in Covid fight

Published July 5, 2021
Health experts fear that Eidul Azha can provide an opportunity to the virus to bounce back. — Online/File
Health experts fear that Eidul Azha can provide an opportunity to the virus to bounce back. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD: Just a fortnight after lifting of the curbs imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus, the number of infections and positivity rate have again started increasing in the country.

Health experts fear that Eidul Azha can provide an opportunity to the virus to bounce back.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a new guideline to the nations for international travel suggesting that proof of Covid-19 vaccination should not be required as a condition for entry to or exit from a country.

On June 9, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) took a number of decisions, including easing the curbs from June 15. It set June 30 deadline for the government employees to get inoculated, walk-in facility for people over 18 years begun from June 11 and vaccination centres’ timing was readjusted from 8am to 10pm daily, except Sundays.

From June 15, restrictions on two-day weekly closure of businesses were relaxed to one day. It was also decided to allow indoor gyms to remain partially open for vaccinated members and allow selected non-contact sports. The 50 per cent work-from-home policy was withdrawn and 100pc office attendance was allowed. Similarly, two-day weekly ban on inter-provincial transport was also lifted and 70pc occupancy in public transport was allowed, instead of 50pc.

On June 27, amid overall improvement of Covid-19 situation in various parts of the world and the country, it was decided to gradually normalise inbound international air travel. Home quarantine requirement for negative rapid antigen test cases was abolished and those who tested positive at airports were allowed to undergo quarantine at their homes instead of government facilities.

According to the NCOC website, the number of daily Covid-19 cases dropped from four digits to three digits on June 25. It remained at around 900 till June 27 and further fell to 735 on 28.

Then the number of cases gradually started increasing and doubled in just one week. The positivity rate was less than 2pc in June but it has now reached near 3pc.

The NCOC data showed that 29 deaths and 1,228 cases were reported in a single day and the number of active cases was 32,621 as of July 4. There were 2,126 patients admitted to hospitals across the country.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) said the ministry foresaw that the situation would start worsening as all restrictions had been lifted.

“Now businesses have been opened, ban on intercity public transport on weekends has been lifted and classes in educational institutions have resumed. People are attending wedding ceremonies in closed halls and have started Eid shopping. All those things are becoming reason of virus spread. We fear that the virus can bounce back around Eid,” he said.

“It is one of the basic instincts of coronavirus that whenever it reaches near eradication, it tries to bounce back. It is our responsibility not to give a chance to the virus to start circulating in large numbers again. We also need to remember that the circulation of the virus from one person to another also increases chances of mutation,” he warned.

Another official of the health ministry said the world was in the middle of a serious pandemic and there was no exception for Pakistan.

“Our people have to accept the reality that the virus is not only among us but also has a remarkable capacity to sharpen its weapons through genetic shifts. Thanks to our data-driven and timely decision making, we have so far tackled the challenge quite well. However, just a little breach of discipline in non-pharmaceutical interventions’ implementation can mount troubles in almost no time. Whole of the nation approach and responsible collective behaviours are imperative to bring back normalcy in our lives,” he said.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of NHS Sajid Shah told Dawn that 16.7 million doses of vaccines had been administered to people so far.

“The NCOC has directed the federating and administrative units to ensure that cattle markets are established outside cities and traders and workers at the markets are vaccinated. Availability of hand sanitizers and masks should be ensured at the markets,” he said.

Replying to a question, Mr Shah said two million doses of Sinopharm vaccine were on way to Islamabad from China.

WHO guideline

Meanwhile the WHO has issued a new guideline to nations for international travel in the context of Covid-19.

The key points of the guideline are that during pandemic, international travel should always be prioritised for essential purposes, including emergency and humanitarian missions, travel of essential personnel, repatriations, and cargo transport of essential supplies.

“As countries gradually resume or readjust non-essential international travel, the introduction of risk mitigation measures aiming to reduce travel-associated exportation, importation and onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 should be based on thorough risk assessments conducted systematically and routinely. The application of a precautionary approach is warranted in the presence of scientific uncertainties such as emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) or variants of interest (VOIs),” it states.

“Proof of Covid-19 vaccination should not be required as a condition of entry to or exit from a country. National authorities implementing testing or quarantine as a condition for entry of international travellers may consider individualized approaches to exempting them from these measures based on acquired immunity from vaccination or previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. Adherence to personal protective measures such as mask use and physical distancing must continue to be respected by all international travellers, both while on board conveyances and at points of entry. International travellers should not be considered by default as suspected Covid-19 cases or contacts or as a priority group for testing. The overall health and well-being of communities should be at the forefront of considerations when deciding on and implementing international travel-related measures, which should be communicated publicly and in a timely manner,” the guideline suggests.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2021

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