Curtain falls on NCOC as nation looks beyond Covid

Published April 1, 2022
A view of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC). — Photo courtesy: Radio Pak
A view of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC). — Photo courtesy: Radio Pak

ISLAMABAD: As the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, Prime Minister Imran Khan formally shut down the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which has overseen the government’s pandemic response and kept the nation updated on daily cases, deaths, recoveries, number of vaccinations, etc.

The announcement came just four days after the centre marked two years of its establishment and two weeks after the government announced that Covid has normalised after infecting more than 1.5 million Pakistani and taking the lives of 30,355 people since March 2020.

“Today, as the NCOC closes down, I want to congratulate the NCOC team and its leadership for a professional, nationally coordinated response to the pandemic. As a result, our Covid response was recognised by [international] agencies and people in the field as one of the most successful globally,” the premier tweeted.

Planning Minister Asad Umar, who was heading the centre, also announced its closure in a Twitter post: “Today is last day of NCOC operation. With Covid indicators at an all-time low and high level of vaccination, the baton now being passed on to health ministry. Chairing NCOC during last two years and working with the most dedicated team has been the greatest privilege and honour of my life.”

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PM, govt officials hail centre as success story; National Institute of Health will now deal with pandemic-related matters

“With Allah’s mercy and support of the entire nation, we have been able to overcome this unprecedented challenge. Makes me immensely proud as a Pakistani that [the country] received praise for its Covid response as one of the most successful in the world from global agencies and personalities,” he went on to say.

Addressing a news conference along with Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, Mr Umar said that “we have learnt to live with the pandemic”.

He said the architect of the success story was Prime Minister Imran Khan.

He also thanked the masses for cooperating with the government and adhering to the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“There was a role of the federal and provincial health departments, Pakistan army, the [National Disaster Management Authority] team for providing logistics to the hospitals, the civil bureaucracy, judiciary and the business community to make it a success story. Director General Operations Maj Gen Asif Mehmood Goraya is a hero who played a major role at the NCOC,” he said.

Dr Sultan and his team also played a major role to control the pandemic, the minister said, adding that front-line health workers were also the real heroes who put their lives at risk to save people from the pandemic.

Later, Dr Sultan informed that the National Institute of Health Centre for Disease Control (NIH-CDC) would now deal with Covid-related matters.

“As the NCOC transitions over its many roles to the new CDC of the NIH, I would like to thank all the colleagues with whom I have had the great opportunity to serve and learn. This was a remarkable coordinating mechanism that has been pivotal to the Covid effort in Pakistan,” Dr Sultan tweeted.

University of Health Sciences Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Javed Akram supported the decision to hand over the job to NIH, which he said had been established to deal with pandemics. “We need to have only one department to deal with pandemics. Establishing new departments for diseases cannot be cost-effective,” he said.

Replying to a question, Dr Akram said that civil and military departments set a positive example by working in unison, but “we should come out of the fire-fighting mode”.

“There should be an early-warning system to deal with the pandemics. There should be dashboards for diseases and real-time data should be uploaded. We need to keep an eye on global developments and should be ready to deal with pandemics,” he said.

However, Research and Data Management Team Lead of Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) Sahabzada Saud told Dawn that there were a number of gaps in the health system and NCOC plugged-in those gaps.

“I still believe that there are gaps in the health management system. There is no capacity, especially at provincial level, to deal with health-related issues. Over a decade or more, the world has faced several pandemics, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola and Covid-19. It shows that we may have to face more pandemics in the future. The NCOC performed well and the vaccination process was also managed well,” he said.

Mr Saud, who dealt with Covid-related reports of Fafen, said the health ministry might not be able to deal with such issues, as there were capacity constraints. He said the NCOC had developed coordination between the federal and provincial governments and managed vaccination well.

Since the Covid pandemic began, 219,368,557 vaccine doses have been administered. As many as 128,074,138 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, of whom 101,881,176 have become fully vaccinated and 4,869,245 have got booster shots.

The NCOC held daily meetings, which were jointly presided by Mr Umar and NCOC National Coordinator Maj Gen Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and attended by Dr Sultan.

Moreover, it had representation from all the provinces and administrative units. The data was shared after every eight hours and updated at least once a day.

“Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar was the person who converted the idea into a practical centre through Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR),” a senior official of the Ministry of National Health Services told Dawn on condition of anonymity, adding that the NCOC was established on March 27, 2020.

“As many as Rs50 billion of the national exchequer was saved by the NCOC in terms of free media campaigns. More than 40 campaigns were run by the centre. It got appreciation from Bill Gates, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and many other organisations,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired the meeting of NSC and directed the authorities concerned to devise a comprehensive strategy to prevent the spread of the disease.

However, a lockdown was announced on March 16 that year and many industries, including construction, educational institutions, restaurants, marriage halls, etc, were closed.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2022

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