YET another grim milestone was reached last week when we became the 30th country in the world to mark a million coronavirus cases. In Karachi, alarm bells are ringing as cases shoot up. Reports suggest the positivity ratio has crossed 20pc — a shocking statistic which suggests that at least one out of every five people tested in the city gets a positive result. There are reports of people testing positive despite having been fully vaccinated, and though most have escaped serious illness or hospitalisation, this spells fear for the unvaccinated and how they will fare if infected with the widespread Delta variant. The Sindh government has announced the closure of restaurants and marriage halls, recreational spots and educational institutions to flatten the curve of positive cases. Additionally, it has decided to add 300 new beds to high-dependency units where critical Covid-19 patients will be admitted, a move which highlights the rapid rate at which those infected are seeking hospital treatment. Unfortunately in Gilgit-Baltistan, where the chief minister said the Delta variant is spreading and the positivity rate is 8.5pc, no lockdown or curbs have been announced. The poor healthcare infrastructure in this region, coupled with the influx of tourists in the summer months, may spell doom if the authorities do not rethink their strategy.

Less than 7m citizens have been fully vaccinated, which means that most in the country — even young people as was witnessed when the Covid-19 wave crushed India — are vulnerable to serious illness. Given this reality, the general attitude towards the virus within the government and members of the public is shockingly laid-back. Until late last week, mass gatherings continued unabated in AJK, where scores of people were crammed next to each other — many without masks — to attend campaign rallies. The heads of all political parties, including the prime minister, led these gatherings, almost as if the threat of Covid-19 was entirely absent. This approach is a terrible mistake, and one that, if the Delta variant continues to spread at this rate, would have come at a huge cost. What is more disappointing is that the government has not ramped up testing more than a year after the pandemic began. A total of 44,579 tests were conducted in the country on July 24 — an exceedingly low figure given the size of the population and the spread of the virus. If messaging and testing are not improved, and vaccination remains slow, Pakistan will enter a Covid-19 disaster.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021

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