Friday November 26, 2021

Too little, too late?

April 24, 2021

After a meeting of the National Coordination Committee, Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that steps will be taken to ensure SOPs are much more strictly followed, warning that otherwise a lockdown would be imposed in major cities where the positivity rate for the Covid-19 virus is high. Till now, the government has been insisting that smart lockdowns have been working well. But the figures do not reflect this. On April 22, over 5800 people showed new corona infections and there were 144 deaths. The average for new infections has been at over 5000 for the past week, and the death toll has hovered around the 100 per day mark. The prime minister has warned that we would soon be in the same situation as India, which is facing a nightmarish situation, if SOPs are not adhered to. On its part, the government has said it has introduced further ‘tough’ measures such as closing down shops by 6pm, stopping all restaurant dining, and ensuring masks are worn. The only issue is that such measures have been introduced previously as well – without much success.

In India on April 22, over 315,000 new infections were reported with over 2000 deaths coming in across the country. Even more gravely the country is running out of oxygen to provide patients struggling for breath. There is also a shortage of hospital beds. And desperate people are using any measure they can to seek help, even if this requires buying oxygen cylinders and treating patients at home. Doctors have appealed for more medicines, more oxygen, and most of all, more vaccines. Ironically enough, India, the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world, is running out of enough to provide its own people.

Pakistan too needs, in the first place, to do much more to step up the vaccination campaign. The reports from medical professionals that people are not registering to vaccinate themselves are disturbing. A full-fledged media campaign needs to be run to persuade them to do so and warn them of the dangers in the absence of this measure. We can also see that hospitals are running into a situation where they can no longer cope. In Mardan, all available ventilator beds are filled and there is no place to accommodate other patients. Even in a bigger city like Lahore, 82 percent of beds are occupied. Many have taken their last breath over the last few days and the question arises if swifter action from the government, including a lockdown, could have prevented this situation and allowed more people to at least live. The need to purchase vaccines has been paramount, but action has come late. We are told new stocks will be available in June with the help of ADB financing, but by then too many people may have died in a crisis, which could perhaps have been warded off had the government relied on common sense and health experts to set the agenda.