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Pakistan under second Covid wave, experts blame complacency, religious gatherings & rallies

Though Pakistan appeared to have tackled the pandemic until a few months ago, its Covid trajectory has only arched upwards, more than doubling cases in a span of a month.

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New Delhi: Pakistan, which seemed to have flattened its Covid-19 curve two months ago, is now recording a sudden surge in coronavirus cases.

The country had witnessed a record high in infections — 6,825 cases on 14 June. Then, around July, it recorded an average of over 2,000 to 3,000 cases daily. Between August and October, it continued to record a decline in infections, wherein less than 1,000 infections were recorded daily.

However, since November, the country has been recording an increase in cases. In a span of a month, the daily cases in Pakistan have more than doubled. On 12 October, 531 cases were recorded while 2,304 cases were reported on 12 November.

On 18 November, as many as 2,547 cases were reported.

According to government data, Pakistan has so far recorded 3,65,927 cases. Of these, 7,248 people have died.

Also read: Imran Khan claims Pakistan handled Covid better than India, but data says it’s complicated

Deaths climb though testing has also risen

While cases have risen, so have the number of Covid-19 mortalities. Eighteen deaths were recorded on 18 November. The day before, 37 deaths were recorded — the highest number in a day. On 16 November, the tally was only slightly lower at 33 deaths.

However, these numbers in November have been significantly higher than in October, where an average of 10 to 15 deaths were recorded daily.

To detect these cases, Pakistan has so far conducted a total of 50,55,382 Covid tests. The number of tests have consistently gone up since July. While an average of 20,000-25,000 tests were done daily in July and August, the number went up to 30,000 in October. On 18 November, 36,899 tests were conducted.

According to Worldometers, an independent tracker tallying Covid cases across the globe, Pakistan conducted 22,719 tests per million, starkly lower than those conducted in India, at 92,773 tests per million. It currently ranks Pakistan 28th in the world in terms of overall caseload.

Where crowds gather 

Dr Abdul Bari, CEO, Indus Hospital in Karachi and member of the Pakistan’s National Health Task Force, said people’s complacency was a primary factor behind the increase in infections in the country.

“I think people’s complacency is the biggest reason behind the surge in infections, along with the weather change, now that it has become cooler,” he told ThePrint.

He also said opening schools and largely focusing on them was a misstep by the government. “I think the mistake on the government’s part was that they opened schools, then wedding halls and restaurants. All their attention was focused towards schools and colleges where they were testing people.”

Meanwhile, a large number of people were gathering in wedding halls and restaurants, which went unnoticed. According to Dr Bari, many of them did not wear masks and were not following other Covid-related protocols.

Ansar Maqsood, executive director of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, said, “People took false impressions of the initial success as they think that the deadly virus has vanished and therefore, precautionary measures are being ignored. Furthermore, the new cases of the coronavirus are being considered as seasonal flu caused by the dry weather and dusty air.”

Bari added: “The political rallies have also contributed to the surge in infections.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced a ban on public rallies on 16 November following an eruption of several pro-democracy protests across the country.

In a televised address, Khan said, “We have decided to ban public gatherings in the country, including ours planned over the weekend, as large crowds help in the spread of the virus.”

Also read: How Pakistan managed to flatten its Covid curve despite a low testing rate

A second wave 

Dr Bari told ThePrint that Pakistan is currently experiencing its second Covid-19 wave.

He also said though Pakistan had been more than able to contain the first wave, the second one could prove difficult.

Expressing concern over the rising test positivity rate (TPR), he said, “First, we had decreased it to 1.9 per cent, but now it has come up to 7 per cent.”

On 7 November, the Pakistan Medical Association had urged people to abide by the standard protocols on Covid-19 and warned about the second wave.

According to government data, Pakistan had a TPR of 6.9 per cent on 18 October. It recorded the highest TPR on 16 November at 7.28 per cent. The country had managed to contain this value to around 1-2 per cent between July and August, but has been witnessing an increase since October.

As far as testing goes, Dr Bari maintained that capacity had been increased and was consistent.

“We are proposing that restaurants only allow outdoor seating or takeaway. Weddings must also be done outdoors … The decision on whether to shut schools will be decided on Monday,” he added.

Smart lockdown

Pakistan is also imposing a ‘smart lockdown’ in hotspot areas, wherein free movement of residents is restricted. Nine cities of Punjab are under this lockdown.

The government in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir also issued a notice, imposing a lockdown from 22 November to 6 December. It also imposed a blanket ban on public gatherings.

With more than half a year spent living under pandemic conditions, Bari said people had “learnt how to live” with Covid-19 and weren’t rushing to hospitals. “Hospitals which were under the strain of handling many Covid-19 patients, are fine now. People have learnt to live with Covid. First people were going to hospitals even with minor symptoms, but now they’re opting for home isolation.”

Also read: Pakistan’s economy is beginning to show momentum as Covid cases taper off


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