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April 20, 2021

Covid alarm

Editorial

 
April 20, 2021

Pakistan experienced the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in June, 2020; and now after nine months the number of the country’s critical patients suffering from the disease is 30 percent higher than what it was in June. According to the head of the National Command and Operations Centre, Asad Umar, oxygen supply capacity is under severe duress. As the third wave of Covid-19 in Pakistan is becoming increasingly lethal, more and more patients are in need of critical care. Just the number of critical patients in Pakistan is now approaching 5000 which is alarming and calls for immediate actions on an emergency basis. While hospitals in the country are full to the brim, SOP compliance appears to be negligent resulting in ever more cases of infection every day. The situation is getting worse but the government has wasted precious time in the past few months that should have been used to prepare for the looming crisis. There should have been some strict imposition of safety precautions during the winter months in which we saw large wedding parties being held and even conferences and festivals taking place in closed premises where auditoriums were jam packed with people.

All this had to take its toll and now we see the result – which is deadly. The latest figures on April 19 as per the government statistics show that there are over 4,500 critical patients with over 82,000 active cases of the infection. Punjab has emerged as the most infected provinces with nearly 48,000 active cases followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with nearly 14,000. But population-wise the most alarming situation is in the federal capital where the number of infected people is even more than that in Sindh. The death toll in the country is now approaching 16,500 with the country recording 149 deaths in a single day on April 17. This situation is getting critical and the government cannot take it easily anymore.

The prime minister's Special Assistant on Health Dr Faisal Sultan has said vaccination needs to be sped up in order to get as many people vaccinated as possible by the end of the year. But so far, this seems to be impossible given that Pakistan has not been able to secure a supply of sufficient vaccines to inoculate its 220 million people. The Covax supply on which it had hoped for to a large extent has been slowed by the surge of the virus in India, the main manufacturer of vaccines in the world. The failure to vaccinate people at a faster rate is proving to be a disaster. We also have vaccine hesitancy that persists among sections of the population, with many insisting that the jab is either useless or possibly harmful. This kind of thinking has to be vanquished and at least until more vaccines are available, we must do more to ensure SOPs are followed strictly in every place and at every gathering and location. Rather than waiting for donations and free vaccines, the government must also set aside the required resources to purchase huge quantities of vaccines from various sources at a time.

The priority at the moment must be the health of the people and acquiring enough equipment and enough vaccination to cater for a large population, whether this is through public sector purchases or through private means, with many people willing to pay for the vaccine, if it can be made available. Allowing the private sector to bring in vaccines would also remove some of the load from the public sector and perhaps make it easier to have more people vaccinated as quickly as possible. All this needs to be tackled at a war footing; the nation needs medical care for free, which is its fundamental right anyway.