The Delta concern

Published July 11, 2021

THE spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant in the country has sparked fears of a looming disaster.

NCOC chair Asad Umar this week warned that artificial intelligence models indicate “clear signs” that Pakistan is experiencing its fourth wave. The positivity ratio in Islamabad this week jumped to 7pc. The national positivity ratio was under 4pc as of yesterday, but given the rate at which the virus is spreading, it will not be long before this figure grows to untenable levels.

True, vaccination is underway, but the pace is far too slow for large swathes of the population to have achieved immunity. Less than 4m people in the country are fully vaccinated, while the government’s target is 70m vaccinated adults.

In the first three waves, a combination of luck and smart lockdowns meant that Pakistan fortunately escaped the devastating scenarios that were witnessed in parts of Europe and India. However, this time, with the spread of the Delta variant, the fear that mass infections will cripple communities and healthcare infrastructure is frighteningly real.

Read: Covid-19 and thereafter

In India, the second wave and the widespread Delta variant saw hundreds of thousands dead and many more critically ill. The spread of the disease in areas where hospital infrastructure is poor meant that citizens with little access to healthcare facilities died. This nightmare scenario unfolded in India weeks after government politicians recklessly boasted that they had beaten Covid-19.

In Pakistan, a similar attitude can be observed both among government figures and members of the public. Because Covid-19 cases and deaths have remained comparatively lower than in other countries, there is a misconception that the virus will not have the same devastating effects here as it has had in so many other countries. This misguided belief has no scientific basis.

Pakistan is lucky not to have plunged into an all-out disaster, but a variant such as Delta can take us there. In India, 55pc of deaths were caused by variants of concern. If authorities do not enforce SOPs, ramp up vaccinations, and roll out mass testing, the present wave of infections could overwhelm the existing healthcare infrastructure. This would mean hundreds of preventable deaths and worsening illnesses. The government cannot limit its actions to appeals that citizens protect themselves. It must test more, do more to speed up vaccinations and implement SOPs, such as smart lockdowns, in areas where there are outbreaks.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2021

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