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May 9, 2020

Abnormal increase in asymptomatic cases, local infection

Pakistan

May 9, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Eight out of 10 coronavirus patients didn’t have symptoms but found positive only after they were tested, countrywide data obtained by The News has determined. Similarly, local transmission of pandemic has considerably increased as around nine in 10 patients have contracted virus from inside Pakistan. These findings are based on the limited capacity of testing that Pakistan has---the maximum per day are less than 12,000 throughout country.

The data obtained from four provinces and Islamabad Capital Territory could be made available at different dates from May 1 to May 7 (data on testing is the latest), however, it was based on the ongoing pattern determined in terms of percentage by using the available statistics. Other than above-noted information, The News also gathered details of ventilators available for corona patient, male and female ratio of the infected, age-group worst hit by pandemic and others.

As for as asymptomatic (the patients without symptoms) are concerned, their percentage varies from province to province ranging between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (70%) and Balochistan (85%). Islamabad has found an average 83% such cases, Punjab 82% and Sindh 80%. This trend has been determined on the basis of limited testing capacity (which has though enhanced compared to the past) but far from any country having done testing at mass level to get a true picture.

According to figures received on May 7, Punjab’s average testing per day has increased to 5,000 per day, Sindh 3,500, KP 1,400, Balochistan 800 and Islamabad 100. In Punjab and Islamabad’s data, tests that private individuals have themselves conducted are also included which doesn’t provide a true picture as many people who can afford to have tested do it for their own satisfaction. A family in Islamabad, for example, have had tested all its members who are more than 50 in number; close relatives included.

In terms of local transmission, the highest number of such cases is in Islamabad (96%) and the lowest was in Punjab (81%). Going by this trend, one can conclude that eight to nine patients (out of 10) have contracted infection locally. Balochistan and Sindh each have 89% cases of local transmission and KP has 84% such cases out of total patients. How do the growing trend of asymptomatic cases and of local infection are interpreted? Different officials have different viewpoint on it.

Spokesperson of Sindh government, Senator Murtaza Wahab, believes that local infections had occurred much earlier and this phenomenon has only come to light now because the testing has increased and foreign flights are virtually banned except those bringing expatriates. As for as asymptomatic are concerned, majority of patients worldwide, he explained, are asymptomatic. However, a well-placed official of Punjab government (who is not authorised to speak to the media) have a different interpretation.

Rising number of cases of local infections, the Punjab’s official said, are due to easing of lockdown and resumption of businesses. Disagreeing with Wahab’s interpretation, he said he had been vigorously following contact tracing from day one therefore has a fair idea of what’s happening. “The number of critical patients on vent and number of deaths are also increasing. Look at this jointly,” he said re-emphasising the point that softening of lockdown has increased local transmission.

As for other variables are concerned, males have been affected way more than females. This trend has universally been noted. Not only men are more prone to virus than women, their survival rate is lower than women. Similarly, people of all ages have been affected by virus including those below ten years of age, the hardest-hit population falls is in the age-group of 41-50 years across the country with the exception of Sindh where relatively younger population (31-40 years) have recorded the highest number of cases.

Regarding ventilators, at present they outnumber the patients who are in need of them. Punjab, for example, has the highest number of ventilators (1,505) against seven corona patients who are on ventilator. Sindh’s total number is not available but those spared for pandemic are 263 whereas there are 14 patients who are on ventilators.

The Khyber Pakhtun-khwa (KP) has 394 ventilators and 18 such patients. Balochistan has 60 ventilators but no patient on ventilator. Islamabad has dedicated 77 ventilators for the purpose and there are six patients put on ventilator.