The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is now quite visibly upon us. Graphs show a rising trend over the past month, and according to NCOC chief Asad Umar 4,468 cases have been reported in the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday with 68 deaths reported and hospitals packed with people who are in a critical condition.
Asad Umar has expressed the fear that a further rise in cases could overwhelm hospitals and has said this is a situation which needs to be avoided at all costs, possibly by bringing all stakeholders, including opposition parties, together to discuss the situation and try to find means to avoid another lockdown which would have a severe impact on the flagging economy.
He has also pointed out that the rising trend is being seen throughout the region and is also visible in Bangladesh. It may have been caused by the presence of the British variant of the virus in Pakistan, which is more easily transmissible and also has a higher rate of serious illness and fatality. This is not a pleasant scenario for Pakistan.
Health experts say that, while in the past two to three members of the same family would come in with the Covid-19 infection, now six to seven members of the same household are reporting in sick with the illness. Yet despite this, people seem indifferent to the pandemic, or do not believe that it exists. SOPs are not being followed and the NCOC has warned that unless there is compliance with the restrictions on the opening of markets beyond 6pm, on indoor weddings, and on the mandatory wearing of masks, there will be a crackdown and a possible lockdown which will affect everyone in the country.
As health experts around the world have already said, the only answer to this problem is to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. On this count, Pakistan is struggling. While it has received the SinoPharm vaccine from China in sizable numbers, these are still not enough to speed up the vaccination drive and Pakistan also lacks the resources to manage a larger number of vaccinations per day.
So far only health workers as well as persons over 60 have been part of the process; while next week we will see people above 50 also getting registered for their first shots. To complicate matters, the government had allowed the import of vaccines by private companies into the country in February.
These, including the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia, have now arrived but a dispute over pricing between the government and the private company which carried out the import has left them literally lying on the shelf. The company has warned that it will re-export the vaccine if an agreement cannot be reached. This is a terrible situation to be in at this moment in time. Strong messaging is required to persuade people to have themselves vaccinated if they are eligible for the free dose being handed out by the government.
On top of it all, the widely circulated photograph of Covid-positive Prime Minister Imran Khan holding a meeting with his media team, in a room which experts point out was not ventilated, has not helped matters in a country where SOPs are already flouted. It is unclear why a face-to-face meeting with his media team was necessary at this time at all. After all, the meeting could have been held over ‘Zoom’ or possibly delayed for some time.