Amidst an upsurge in Covid-19 cases, the NCOC has called for the public to, once again, mask up in crowded and enclosed areas, including all healthcare facilities. The guidelines are effective until April 30, indicating that the surge is likely to continue. On March 17, the NIH recorded 133 Covid cases with 15 patients in critical care and a positivity ratio of 2.7 per cent. Despite the upward trend in cases, there have only been four deaths due to the virus in the past month and the NIH has stressed that there is no imminent threat of a major Covid-19 wave in the country. The NCOC’s announcement will come as a surprise to most as it has been generally assumed that the Covid pandemic is behind us. It has been over three years since Covid-19 first emerged on the scene in late 2019; the fact that the virus and its variants and sub-variants are still infecting hundreds of people and prompting public health authorities to issue nationwide guidelines indicates that the entire notion of leaving the virus behind might be fatuous. Covid-19 is, in many ways, a virus for its time. Given how interconnected the world is, particularly the ubiquity of global trade and travel, the virus always seems to find new hosts and generate new variants. Clusters of infection can and do emerge in any corner of the world and it would seem that we are never fully safe from a new major outbreak or wave. Hence, the fight against Covid-19 is not so much a ‘war’ as it is a continuing global policing effort. The virus will require constant vigilance, preparedness and counter measures for the years to come, akin to how we deal with dengue and malaria.
In this context, it is crucial for public health authorities around the world to keep coming up with new and more effective countermeasures. This involves issuing masking recommendations or mandates, as the situation demands, and also finding more effective treatments, including new vaccines and boosters. Furthermore, keeping another major outbreak at bay requires a public that takes the virus seriously and listens to the advice of public health authorities. Pakistan could do a lot better on the latter. Even at the height of the pandemic, with schools and offices shut, masking was rare in places where there was no authority figure to remind and force people to wear a mask. Less than half of the country, around 132 million people, is fully vaccinated and only around 50 million have received a booster shot. Clearly, more must be done to improve uptake of vaccines and boosters, including countering fake news about Covid and vaccines online. This will take a global effort. It is also worth mentioning that the developed world has gone out of its way to hoard vaccines, masks and other preventative equipment, leaving the Global South struggling to keep its people safe from the virus. Without much-needed vaccine and booster redistribution towards the poorer countries, infections will be added to the long list of inequalities between the rich and poor regions of the globe.