• Dr Javed Akram also links more infections to pandemic fatigue, drop in vaccine efficacy
• 109 people contract Covid over 24 hours; positivity remains above 2pc

ISLAMABAD: As the rising number of Covid-19 cases has prompted the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to recommend mask-wearing in crowded places, the Punjab health minister has blamed the uptick on political activities, especially in Lahore, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and other cultural activities.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Javed Akram also insisted that pandemic fatigue — an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis — and variation in the coronavirus were also responsible for more cases, as the efficacy of current vaccines has dropped to around 60pc from 90pc previously.

Data released by the NCOC on Saturday morning showed that 109 people were infected by the coronavirus and the national positivity was 2.05pc over the last 24 hours. As many as 14 patients were in critical condition.

Earlier this week, the centre recommended wearing of masks in crowded and tightly enclosed places and healthcare facilities. The guidelines were issued for a period of up to April 30, keeping in view the current Covid-19 trend in the country.

Dr Akram told Dawn that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 had changed itself and converted into XBB 1.5, BQ 1.1 and BQ 1, leading to a surge in cases across the world.

“Moreover, we are still using the same vaccine, which was prepared against the initial virus. With the passage of time, the virus has changed itself and the vaccine is now just 60pc effective against it. Pfizer and Moderna have introduced bivalent vaccines, but they are not available in Pakistan,” he said.

“Most people were inoculated over six months ago so their immunity level has also dropped. The nation is also facing pandemic fatigue due to which they don’t take precautionary measures,” he said.

Dr Akram suggested that citizens should wear masks and try to avoid crowded places.

“Unfortunately, political activities, especially in Lahore, have also contributed to Covid-19 cases. On the other hand, the PSL and other social gatherings are some other reasons behind the virus spread,” he said.

He said the present vaccines were less effective against new variants of the virus, but it was not confirmed if the virulence of the virus had increased or not.

Besides, Dr Akram said, several people in Pakistan had diabetes and high blood pressure, which made them more vulnerable to the virus. “I would suggest people get themselves inoculated if they have not got a booster or vaccine for the last six months,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023

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