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July 16, 2020

Covid-19: Scenario of Pak rural areas


July 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD: No hassle of wearing masks, no use of sanitizers, no PCR testing, no quarantine, no social distancing, no hospitalisation is the precise picture prevailing in the rural areas while the urban centres are gripped by the frightening COVID-19 pandemic.

Double handshake, triple embrace continues in the rural region as the inhabitants have no fear of catching coronavirus. They are as warm in meeting their relatives and friends as before and are not bothered about the disease that they feel doesn’t exist in their areas. “As far as I know there is not a single case of COVID-19 not only in my village but at least six similar settlements close to it in district Gujrat,” a villager, Allah Rukha, told The News when asked about the prevalence of the scourge in his area.

“We are doing our routine work like before the coronavirus struck the cities of Pakistan. Farmers are working in fields and all other activities continue unaffected,” he said. However, Allah Rukha said that a large number of virus cases (80) were reported from a village, which is just four kilometers from Gujrat city as many residents daily go to the town.

An inhabitant of a village of Mardan district, Ali Muhammad, narrated to this correspondent a similar story. “We are not afraid of the COVID-19 because there is not a single patient of it not only in our village but also the areas in its neighbourhood.” He said that nobody wears a mask, social distancing concept is unknown, and hardly anybody can afford sanitizer. There is no need for it. Since there is no patient, no PCR test is required, he said.

A resident of a village near Wazirabad in district Gujranwala, Farooq Farooqi, who works in a state-run utility in Islamabad, told The News that he has taken leave from his office to repair his old house. “I am supervising the work done by the masons and labourers for the past four weeks. I have faced no problem in getting the supplies of the building material”, he said.

An inhabitant of a village of district Sialkot, Sattar Khan, told this correspondent that three months back, an emergency health team came to his locality on receiving reports that a couple of persons have come here from Spain. They were hurriedly taken away by an accompanying ambulance. However, they were allowed to go home after their PCR tests turned out to be negative. After that, no health team has visited the village, he said.

A top official, who hails from a village surrounding the federal capital and visits it off and on, said that there is not a single case of COVID-19 in his locality. “A few days back, I visited Attock to offer condolences over the death of a dear one and found several people sitting on charpoys without any social distancing. They stated that the coronavirus was confined to cities only and there is no such case in our village.”

The official said that it was possible that the rural population has developed resilience and immunity against the COVID-19 by living in an atmosphere different from that of big cities and towns. Additionally, he said, not too many people living in cities, who might have contracted the virus, are in touch with these villages.

A senior health official directly dealing with the virus patients in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, said that the situation was far better in villages. “We are not receiving any significant number of patients from these localities,” he said. A plausible reason for having no disease in villages is that the people there get relatively better, unadulterated food and there are no hordes of people gathered at one place because of the sparse population. “Normal practice is that if a resident has fever or throat sore, he takes Panadol or Paracetamol and recovers. He is not much concerned about the ailment,” the doctor said.

He said his team did find some positive cases of COVID-19 in a couple of suburbs of Mirpur during the contact tracing. Such patients recovered after they were treated, he stated. Another top health official believed that the villagers were safe from the COVID-19 because they don’t have too many movements to the urban areas which have been hit by the vast spread of coronavirus.

These villagers said that there has been no spike in the deaths in their areas and their number is normal as it has been before the pandemic struck Pakistan. They felt that the deaths occurring in their regions were being caused by the usual diseases. As there have been no cases of COVID-19, fatalities due to this scourge are ruled out, they said. However, some of them stated that a few persons, whose villages are very close to the cities, have been affected by the virus. But the areas that are quite away from big towns are not struck by the disease.

Since there is no emergency situation in the rural areas, the federal and provincial governments have also not been panicked by the conditions permeating the villages. Their focus has been on the urban areas, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.

While the overall tally of COVID-19 patients has topped 250,000 with the new cases surging, the death rate, according to officials, has come down. Authorities are somewhat content claiming that the plague is receding but the health officials continue to warn not to relax. They caution that the current month and August are critical for the spread of coronavirus and recommend that it must be ensured that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are aggressively observed.

It is generally felt that Pakistan has never got the accurate figure of coronavirus patients because of low testing. In over 220 million population, less than half a million tests have so far been conducted. However, the recovery rate has been quite satisfactory. It is a fact that thousands of patients have gotten well by adopting precautions by adopting precautionary measures on their own, without taking help from the public health system.