Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Thursday said that closing down entire cities for weeks was not the solution to curbing the spread of the disease.
Pakistan is currently experiencing a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen the number of infections as well as fatalities jump up steadily across the country, but particularly in Karachi and Sindh, where the provincial government is reportedly mulling a complete lockdown.
Briefing the media alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan today after a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the minister said that Pakistan was among the world's first few countries to realise that closing down the country was not an effective way to battle the pandemic.
"We realised that the working class, the labourers have to pay the price of this," he said.
He said that Pakistan's tried-and-tested strategy — based on data and experience — needed to be followed. "Closing down entire cities for weeks is not the solution."
Umar said that following of the SOPs and enforcing lockdowns in hotspot areas was the only way to tackle the spread of the deadly virus. "We have seen success with this [strategy] time and again."
The minister said the Sindh government was "on the right path" with its handling of the situation in Karachi and monitoring the cases "actively".
He rued that some citizens were still not taking the virus seriously and have not realised that their actions have consequences.
"In Ramazan, we worked on SOP enforcement on a huge scale and saw an improvement in the spread of the disease," Umar said. "But just as it begins to recede, some people start thinking that it has completely gone away or forget that our own actions are directly related to the virus spread."
Sharing the statistics, the minister said that currently Islamabad's SOP compliance was 56.4 per cent, 46.6pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 42.7 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 37.4pc in Gilgit-Baltistan and 38pc in Punjab. Sindh and Balochistan have the lowest SOP compliance at 33pc, he said.
Students, LEAs given Aug 31 deadline for vaccination
During the press conference, the minister also announced that the NCOC has decided to set an August 31 vaccination deadline for "high risk" sectors.
He said that students above 18 years of age, those working in the transport sector, public sector employees, law enforcement agencies, and staff working at hotels, restaurants, wedding halls, shopping malls and banks will have to get inoculated by August 31.
Meanwhile, teachers will have to get vaccinated by August 1 to continue working at educational institutions. He added that those who have not been vaccinated will also not be allowed to undertake domestic air travel.
The minister said that the government has taken the steps to protect the livelihoods of the people associated with these sectors.
Number of cases, fatalities rise as 4th wave continues
Pakistan has reported 76 coronavirus-related fatalities during the past 24 hours — the highest daily death toll reported in the country since June 9, when the same number of Covid-19 deaths were reported.
The total number of deaths stemming from the coronavirus now stands at 23,209, according to the National Command and Control Centre, which oversees the government's pandemic response.
Meanwhile, over 4,000 new infections have been reported in the country for the second-straight day. It is the highest daily infections tally since May 1, when 4,414 Covid-19 cases were recorded. Pakistan has reported 4,497 new cases, up from 4,112 a day earlier, which have swelled the total disease caseload to 1,020,324.
A breakdown of the new cases and deaths is as follows:
- Sindh: 2,672 cases, 43 deaths
- Punjab: 592 cases, 17 deaths
- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 399 cases, 7 deaths
- Islamabad: 376 cases, 1 death
- Azad Jammu and Kashmir: 261 cases, 2 deaths
- Balochistan: 158 cases
- Gilgit-Baltistan: 39 cases, 6 deaths
Pakistan, for the third-straight day, has set a new record for daily vaccinations, with Asad Umar reporting the number to be 850,000 — up from 778,000 the previous day.
“Third day in a row a new record for daily vaccination set. 6 lakh 80 thousand, then 7 lakh 78 thousand and yesterday 8 lakh 50 thousand. Punjab, Sindh, KP and Balochistan all set new daily vaccination records yesterday. Well done Pakistan, but we want to accelerate even more,” the minister tweeted.
The development follows Dr Faisal Sultan's recent statement that the country would achieve the goal of administering one million doses per day soon.
Yet, the rising number of cases and deaths have raised concerns.
University of Health Sciences Vice-Chancellor Dr Javed Akram had warned while speaking to Dawn a day ago that the situation would deteriorate in the coming days and the country might be left with no option but to enforce lockdown. He had suggested that the pace of vaccination should be further expedited to avoid the chances of creation of the vaccine-resistant virus.
“Unfortunately whenever the number of cases has started declining, a new variant of Covid-19 having high transmission rate has emerged and then positivity has started increasing again. Covid-19 is comparatively a bigger virus and it has 39,000 positions for mutations and 20,000 positions for variations. The Delta (Indian) variant has emerged after two mutations and this is why it is called double mutant virus,” he had said.