Pakistan on Thursday reported 641 coronavirus cases during the last 24 hours — the highest number of daily cases in over three months since March 10, when the daily tally was 723 cases.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), 18,813 Covid tests were conducted across the country yesterday, while two people died from the deadly virus. The national positivity rate now stands at 3.41 per cent.
Data from the health department shows that Karachi has been the most affected city in the recent wave with a positivity rate of 19.09pc. In the last 24 hours, 2,043 tests were conducted in the city of which 390 came out positive.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Mardan and Azad Kashmir's Muzaffarabad followed with positivity rates of 5.95pc and 4.62pc, respectively. In addition, Lahore's positivity was recorded at 3.49pc, while in Islamabad it was 2.37pc.
Health authorities have said that the new wave of cases in the country could partially be attributed to two sub-variants of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 — BA.4 and BA.5. This meant that the virus would continue to spread fast.
The government has called for a return of precautionary measures. At a press conference of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) yesterday, Health Minister Qadir Patel announced three standard operating procedures (SOPs) that need to be "followed religiously".
He said masks had been made compulsory in all closed gatherings, airplanes, railways, and public transport. Social distancing was a must and citizens were told to ensure proper sanitisation.
Patel also said the government had decided to increase mass testing across the country for which instructions had been sent to the health secretaries of all four provinces.
'No lockdown in Karachi'
Meanwhile, the Sindh government ruled out a possible lockdown in Karachi at a meeting on Wednesday.
“The city cannot be forced to go under another lockdown, which is why it is highly necessary that the community at large understands the importance of Covid SOPs and follows them,” a statement issued after the meeting quoted Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho as saying.
“The masks must be made mandatory for all indoor spaces, especially cinemas and the like. People are not taking precautions that they used to take which is another reason the cases of Covid-19 [cases] are increasing.”
Pechuho also hinted that the number of cases was higher than being documented, suspecting that there was also a significant portion of the population who were using at-home antigen tests and isolating without informing healthcare authorities.
The health minister was of the view that the people must be made aware of the importance of the booster vaccine dose and should voluntarily come to the vaccination sites in the province. However, she also added that those who were unable to do so would be given the vaccine at their homes.
“For these situations, there must be a helpline where people who are self-isolating can let the health department know that they have Covid and are isolating so that there is a record of all cases of infection,” she added.
“Just because the symptoms of Covid infections are mild does not mean that the after-effects of long Covid-19 should be ignored. After-effects of Covid-19 have not been extensively researched and many experts believe that long Covid can target the immune system, internal organs, and neurological functions in otherwise healthy individuals.”
'Virus behaving like a roller coaster'
Talking to Dawn earlier, University of Health Sciences (UHS) Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram said the virus was behaving like a "roller coaster".
“The country will face similar situations for a few years,” Dr Akram said, suggesting that restrictions should be imposed once again as they would not only bring cases down but also help overcome the prevailing energy crisis.
Dr Javed Akram, who is a member of the Scientific Task Force on Covid-19, said the immunity level among people was decreasing and the efficacy of vaccines, which was once 95pc, had fallen to around 80-85pc as the virus was continuously mutating.
“Unfortunately when cases drop, people assume the virus has been eradicated and stop following the standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he said, adding that he personally experienced over a thousand people attending marriage ceremonies and no one wearing masks.
“Even if anyone was wearing a mask, it would just be hanging around the person’s neck,” he said. The UHS vice chancellor said according to his understanding, there were three to five variants prevalent in Pakistan.
Vaccines are losing efficacy but even then they were the only shield against Covid-19, Dr Akram said, adding that people should go for vaccination and those who were already immunised should get booster shots. He said Moderna vaccine supply was short but its consignment had arrived two days ago.
“People should take precautionary measures and strictly adhere to SOPs,” he said, adding that Pakistan was in the grip of a severe energy crisis so if restrictions were imposed, the country would not only be able to control the pandemic but also overcome the energy crisis.
Several markets and shops would be closed and the cost of transportation would minimise, he said. Replying to a question, Dr Akram said according to his university’s study, Vitamin D helped combat Covid-19 and also increased resistance against it.