CONSIDERING the steep rise in Covid-19 cases in the country over the past few days, the government decided on Thursday to reimpose a number of curbs to curtail the spread of the infection that is currently being driven by the Omicron variant. The non-pharmaceutical interventions include more curbs in cities where the positivity rate is above 10pc, and lesser restrictions where infections are below this threshold. The positivity rate in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Islamabad is particularly high with 45pc reported in the Sindh capital. While curbs should have been put in place earlier to keep Covid in check, now the state must enforce these restrictions, and urge citizens to act responsibly to help dampen the impact of the fifth wave. In cities with over 10pc positivity rate, school attendance has been brought down to 50pc for children under 12, while indoor weddings and dining have been banned, among the major interventions. Markets are free to open, however, while full office attendance has also been allowed, albeit working from home has been encouraged.
It can be argued that large public events such as indoor weddings should have been curbed when the first signs of the fifth wave had emerged. Admittedly, such decisions are difficult, as they adversely affect people’s social and economic life. But acting early can limit the damage and help society return to normality much sooner. The fact is that the entire globe is having to live with the ‘new normal’ that Covid-19 has brought with it, and Pakistan is no exception. But as the experience of the earlier waves shows, a combination of testing, vaccination and targeted restrictions can help restore economic, educational and social activities. Some quarters have decried the curbs, particularly restaurateurs, while the education of primary students will also be adversely affected. While lockdown fatigue may be a fact, unless these steps are taken, Pakistan’s fragile healthcare system risks being swamped with Covid cases. All segments of society need to abide by the new curbs, and following the globally recommended SOPs seems to be the best route to stay ahead of the contagion. And while experts should be the ones making the final call, mini-lockdowns in areas where a high percentage of cases are reported can be a viable option. With patience and adherence to SOPs and expert medical advice, the fresh Covid challenge can be overcome. Pakistan cannot afford to take the Omicron threat lightly.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2022