Omicron threat

Published January 16, 2022

AS Pakistan grapples with the fifth coronavirus wave fuelled by the Omicron variant, the state must take timely decisions to avert a public health disaster. Sindh, and Karachi in particular, is an area of major concern as the highest numbers are being reported from the province. The contribution of the metropolis to the country’s Covid-19 tally, already alarming at 66pc, increased to nearly 80pc in a single day, and the positivity rate in Karachi yesterday was hovering around 35pc. After initial reluctance to once again impose harsh measures to control the spread of infection, the Sindh government’s task force on Covid-19 has now evidently decided the numbers are disquieting enough to merit taking action. While schools in the province are to remain open, it is now mandatory to wear masks in public places, markets and wedding halls.

When the pandemic first hit Pakistan in March 2020, Sindh led the way by imposing curbs and proactively enforcing SOPs to ensure that the virus was kept at bay. The country has thankfully made it through subsequent waves, though this does not mean that the state and the public let their guard down. Virus and lockdown fatigue is a fact, but measures need to be taken to ensure the country’s fragile health infrastructure is not swamped with fresh cases. Medical experts have said that Omicron is milder compared to other variants, but its transmissibility is much faster. Both the federal and provincial governments must therefore be on the same page where tackling the Omicron threat is concerned.

The plan to counter the fifth wave must be made in light of expert medical advice. But the surest way forward is to stick to the SOPs that have, till now, succeeded in minimising Covid-19’s impact. Maintaining social distancing and basic hygiene practices is crucial, while events drawing large crowds must be discouraged. Moreover, vaccination efforts should be ramped up. Currently, around one third of the population has been fully vaccinated. These numbers can definitely be improved, as vaccinated persons have a much better chance of battling the virus, and limiting the damage it causes to the body. As for lockdowns and restrictions on public movement, this is something the provincial administrations and health experts may have to consider. Admittedly lockdowns are not ideal, especially considering the impact they have on economic and social life. The economically vulnerable suffer even more during lockdowns, while educational activities are also affected when children are physically not in school. However, saving lives must be paramount, and decisions need to be made based on facts and not emotions. One option could be ‘smart lockdowns’ in Karachi and other areas, especially in neighbourhoods where clusters of cases are reported. Testing must also be increased. With a proactive response from the state, and responsible attitudes from the public, it is indeed possible to beat the fifth Covid wave.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022

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