Rampant virus

Published January 31, 2022

CASES of the Covid Omicron variant are increasing rapidly across the country, with over 100,000 active infections and almost 8,000 new cases detected in a single day. The National Command and Operation Centre records on Sunday showed that 29 people had died of Covid-19 complications over the last 24 hours.

The total number of patients in critical care at hospitals touched 1,455, and the national positivity ratio was about 12.5pc. In multiple cities, the positivity ratio has been much higher, with Peshawar and Karachi leading the way.

Daily testing, however, is still inadequate, which means the actual number of positive cases is far higher. Though daily testing in the current wave at approximately 70,000 a day is the highest in the country since the start of the pandemic, it is far too low for such a large population — especially given how fast this variant spreads. Indoor dining has been banned in Karachi and Hyderabad, but most other cities are functioning as per usual despite a high number of cases.

While the situation is not as alarming as it was in previous waves, when the lethal Delta variant was rampant, it nevertheless points to the unchecked spread of the virus in a population where 80.7m of 220m are double jabbed, and a mere 2.2m boosted. Research shows that though two jabs offer protection from the new variant, the booster shot is required as immunity can dip after some time.

Explainer: Who can get a Covid-19 booster shot in Pakistan and where?

Authorities must ensure that the vaccination drive continues without hurdles and manages to cover the unvaccinated as well as citizens who are eligible for boosters. Reports that the Expo Centre in Karachi has suspended jabs are extremely worrying. The mega vaccination facility that had earned praise early in the immunisation drive is now at a standstill as staff protest non-payment of salaries. This is an unfortunate turn of events which sends a demoralising message to vaccinators as well members of the public. Unpaid dues and mismanagement have resulted in the suspension of a key service in the thick of the pandemic — a situation which neither the federal nor provincial units can afford at any cost.

As the virus spreads across the world, and countries grapple with solutions such as the antiviral pill that has recently been approved, it is only a matter of time before yet another variant will surface. There are early reports that a new variant, the ‘Omicron BA2’, has been detected in parts of Asia, Europe and the US and that it is more contagious than Omicron. Though this new variant appears to pose a similar threat level as Omicron, the reality is that in countries like Pakistan where millions are still unvaccinated, the chances of greater risk are high. The authorities must operate with this threat in mind and make sure that vaccine coverage is undertaken on a war footing.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2022

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