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November 29, 2020

Locking down to resurging Covid-19


November 29, 2020

As anticipated, the world is experiencing a second wave of Covid-19. Not only in Pakistan, but in many countries in Europe, Middle East, North America, Covid-19 positive cases are on the rise again. The imposition of strict safety measures that were previously eased is getting functional.

The United Kingdom has again issued directives for stay-home and other measures for its citizen, so as other countries are backing up to their earlier safety measures and slowing down the re-opening process. To fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, countries did a lot of efforts in flattening the curve, and vaccine trials have also been initiated in various parts of the world. It must however be noted that citizens have started ignoring the SOPs. After the initial shutdown and adopting safety measures, Pakistan started showing signs of recovering from the outbreak of coronavirus much faster than many countries; the country’s efforts were also recognized internationally.

However, the recent increase in corona cases is again ringing the bell and government authorities are again gearing up to fight this deadly virus. The pandemic is hitting the world with a double edge sword; loss of human lives and economic disaster. SARS-COV 2-modern pandemic has now become a game-changer to bring health and hygiene measures in the center of all policies. Many countries are struggling to keep a balance between running the economic wheel and social distancing and shutdown procedures. In a country like Pakistan, drastic shutting down may also result in dire economic consequences. It is now almost one year, people across the planet are suffering from this pandemic and in fact, have been waiting for the vaccine to come to their rescue. Many pharmaceutical and research companies in different countries are working day and night to develop the vaccine and have achieved some milestones and but not anyone could develop the vaccine so far. However, the latest development indicates the vaccine will be available in a few months.

The worldwide death toll due to this modern pandemic has increased to 1,245,717 with total cases reported 49,578,590, Whereas, in Pakistan, the statistics are 6,977 deaths with 344,839 cases (as of 8th Nov-2020). Countries across the globe are witnessing major economic turmoil, business getting into the downfall, many companies went bankrupt and millions of employees laid off across the globe. Clouds of uncertainty still confront us as to when we are going to experience a ‘world free of coronavirus’ or we would be required to live with this ‘new normal routine’. Not only those who are Covid-19 positive are physically and mentally suffering, but the apprehension and fear of infection transmission can also be felt across the board. Covid-19 has taught us religiously to follow some essential behaviors that government and other health care institutions are trying to enforce. Now more than ever, basic health and hygiene measures have received tremendous attention across a wide range of sectors to contain the virus transmission. Wherever the safety measures have been witnessed, it displays a sense of comfort for the citizens; as citizens are seen becoming cautious of practicing physical distancing, wearing masks, and use of hand sanitizers. However, provincial and district governments need to ensure strict adherence to ensure compliance with the new normal behaviors.

Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) measures are essentially needed. Pakistan is ranked in the top 10 countries with the greatest number of people living without access to safe water (UNDP Report, 2016). Evidence has demonstrated that inadequate WASH facilities lead to adverse health consequences. 99,644 children under five years of age died in 2016 due to diarrhea and pneumonia (report by John Hopkins and International Vaccine Access Centre, 2018). These two diseases remain the leading killers for children in Pakistan and other low middle-income countries. These diseases are the outcomes of an unhygienic environment, particularly ‘diarrhea’ which spread due to unsafe water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene practices. What does this imply, as COVID.19 cases continue to spike in the country? The public Health Engineering Dept is responsible to ensure that people have access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities to protect their health.

Schools re-opening during covid-19 with inadequate preparation and lack of adherence to SOPs in government schools led to an increase in the infection, followed by the closure of some schools across the nations. Improvement in WASH needs a lot of attention to prevent the Covid-19 outbreak in children. It is high time for the Federal and Provincial Ministry of Education to invest in ensuring adequate water, hygiene, and sanitation facilities at the government-managed schools. The seriousness of current crises must have compelled the employers and contractors to ensure the safety of their workers and laborers by ensuring hygiene measures and an enabling environment.

However, this health-oriented action must continue in the post-COVID-19 period too, as these workers belong to the poorest wealth quartile with low literacy level, therefore, they must be encouraged to work under secure conditions.

Front-line workers in health care have never received much appreciation in the past than in these challenging times. Of all the sectors, staff in the healthcare industry is getting victims of COVID-19, while treating and risking their own lives. Many health workers have been reported to lose their lives while caring for their patients. With all-time low budget allocation in the health sector, it’s high time to increase investment in the overall health budget and give due attention, especially to the mental health needs.

Undoubtedly, national, federal, and district governments are responsible to ensure the safety of its citizens amid the crises, the far greater responsibility also lies with the individual themselves by opting for positive behavior change to maintain adequate hygiene.

This implies practicing physical distancing, following proper cough and sneezes etiquettes, mask-wearing not only during this time but also when experiencing other minor ailments (such as flu). WHO has always strongly advocated for various health and basic hygiene measures for hand hygiene and cough and sneezing etiquettes, unfortunately, it only got into serious attention amid this pandemic.

We should consider it as a moment for self-reflection as to how many of us are washing hands for 20 seconds and following proper sneeze and cough etiquettes? How many of us are washing hands when arriving at home? Avoiding social gatherings during flu and fever, requesting guests to avoid attending a wedding while experiencing flu or any other symptoms, disinfecting the vehicles on regular basis are some of the crucial hygiene measures to safeguard us from this modern-day enemy.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastation, Pakistan and many countries have started refocusing their priority toward their health system and its resources.

Many under-developing countries are struggling hard to cope with and manage the existing public health crises. No doubt, this pandemic is acting as a game-changer for the entire nation, as it carries great potential to amend the existing norms and behaviors in the post- COVID-19 period across the wide range of sectors; with an attention to place ‘health and hygiene measures’ in center of all policies.

As vaccine trials are still in the process to offer immunity with this threatening disease, federal, provincial, and district governments must continue to enforce strict measures to ensure adherence with the SOPs to contain coronavirus transmission. Alongside, far greater action is expected at the end of individuals and communities to own the responsibility to demonstrate responsible behavior to protect themselves and others. —Nousheen Akber Pradhan and Ghulam Mohammed Alwani (The former is a Senior Instructor at Aga Khan University, Pakistan. The latter is a senior member of US GLOBAL FUELS Houston, Texas)