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March 22, 2021

‘Sindh, Balochistan must impose strict restrictions to ward off third Covid wave’


March 22, 2021

Sindh and Balochistan need to take bold decisions, including strict restrictions on inter-provincial movement as well as travel between cities, to prevent the disaster being caused by the so-called UK strain of the novel coronavirus, which has wreaked havoc in Punjab, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and some cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials and experts warned on Sunday.

“The UK variant started in Mirpur [Azad Kashmir] and spread towards Islamabad, Rawalpindi as well as major cities of Punjab and KP,” an official of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination told The News. “As for Sindh, it’s only a matter of time, so travel restrictions need to be imposed to mitigate the risk and pace of transmission in the areas where the new variant is not rampant yet.”

Meanwhile, Sindh government officials said that not a single life was lost due to Covid-19 in the province during the past 24 hours, adding that this was the second time this month that not a single death was reported due to the infectious disease in the province during a 24-hour period.

They said that 232 fresh Covid-19 cases were reported during the past 24 hours after 8,975 samples were tested in the entire Sindh, adding that the positivity rate had dropped to 2.58 per cent in the province, while it had climbed to nine per cent in Punjab, the ICT and other parts of Pakistan.

The federal government official said that major cities of Sindh and Balochistan have so far been spared from the third wave of Covid-19 that is being attributed to the B117 variant of the coronavirus and that has wreaked havoc in Punjab and the ICT, adding that it is time for Sindh and Balochistan to learn from Punjab’s experience and take measures to control the spread of the new variant, which is deadlier and more infectious than the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2.

Fearing that deaths due to Covid-19 in Pakistan could rise to up to 100 a day by the middle of April, according to projections by different models, the official said that strict control measures, including travel checks, were needed at inter-provincial borders, with restricted movements between cities and within cities, and prevention of large gatherings to minimise the spread of the deadly UK strain, which is between 32 to 104 per cent more infectious than the original strain.

When asked why they were sure that the UK strain was not present in Karachi and other cities of Sindh, the official said that compared to Punjab and Islamabad, the low positivity rate and decreased hospitalisation of patients with Covid-19 symptoms indicated that the new variant was not circulating in Sindh and Balochistan.

“Samples for the detection of the UK variant have not been systematically tested by someone in Karachi. On the other hand, at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, we picked a good number of random samples and tested them. Most of the samples tested carried the UK strain, that is B117.”

Responding to a query about increasing the pace of vaccination, the official said: “Herd immunity through vaccination is a vague idea. Countries such as Pakistan need to urgently protect high-risk populations to keep the load on the health system manageable. Our strategy is right, but the pace is not appropriate.”

On the other hand, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said that an epidemic burned through different parts of countries at different times, which was not strange at all. “It depends on timing or prior wave [which was heavy in Karachi] and strains and weather and so many unknown variables.”

‘B117 already in Karachi’

Infectious diseases expert and consultant at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) Dr Faisal Mahmood said that not just the UK variant but some other variants also could be circulating in Karachi, some of which might be deadlier and more infectious than the UK strain or maybe less lethal and infectious, but it could be the weather and some other factors and variables that had protected the people of Karachi and other cities of Sindh.

“We have already detected the UK variant in Karachi, and in fact, the first cases were detected by us at the AKU, so it’s not true that this variant would result in extreme disaster. We’re screening people occasionally, and every now and then, we find this variant here. Maybe there are a lot more people infected with the UK variant in Punjab and the upper parts of the country, while our weather is warm as compared to theirs these days.”

He said that Sindh might also face the third wave of Covid-19 in the days to come if appropriate measures were not taken, including the limiting of inter-provincial as well as intra-provincial movements, adding that the authorities should be extremely vigilant and even limit the movement of people within the cities.