THE increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Punjab tell a worrying story about the trajectory of the virus. With 36 deaths and nearly 1,000 new cases reported in just 24 hours in the province, it is clear the third wave has very much arrived. Authorities, too, have taken notice of the rise in cases and the province has banned wedding ceremonies, sports activities and public meetings in cities where the positivity rate exceeds 5pc. According to an official list of ‘high-burden districts’, Gujranwala has the highest positivity rate at 9pc, followed by Lahore and Multan at 8pc, Faisalabad and Sargodha at 6pc and Rawalpindi at 4pc. While these figures ought to be taken seriously, the reality may be far worse. Daily testing across the country is very low.
In Punjab too, where the highest number of cases are being reported, the government is reluctant to increase testing. This hesitation is mind-boggling, especially given how critical widespread testing is to obtaining a true picture of the spread of the virus. What is also disturbing is that the rampant spread is said to be linked to the fast-spreading UK variant. Although the death toll is not as high as in the US or Europe where the population’s median age is high, the government must understand that even a mild case of Covid-19 can have debilitating long-term effects on health.
According to a study published in The Lancet in January, even after six months Covid-19 survivors who had suffered acute infections had multiple health issues. These included fatigue, muscle weakness, sleep difficulties and anxiety or depression. “Patients who were more severely ill during their hospital stay had more severe impaired pulmonary diffusion capacities and abnormal chest imaging manifestations, and are the main target population for intervention of long-term recovery,” the study noted.
In this scenario, even if the death rate is not alarmingly high, the authorities must ramp up testing to gauge the transmission of the virus. Taking infections lightly is a huge mistake, as they can even result in increased hospitalisations and overburden healthcare staff. Data in mid-February showed only about 15,500 healthcare workers in the province had been vaccinated, which means there are doctors and hospital staffers who have not been immunised but are still treating Covid-19 patients. The government’s lethargy and casual attitude towards increased testing is inexplicable and defies what has clearly been established by epidemiologists and health experts across the world: the authorities must do better.