ISLAMABAD: National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) chief Asad Umar on Thursday voiced his opposition to doctors’ calls for a complete lockdown in Karachi — which has seen its coronavirus positivity ratio surge to 30 per cent – stressing it was “not the solution”.
“In the past one year, we have learnt that shutting down had not worked and it won’t work now. So the only way forward is to vaccinate and follow SOPs,” Umar said with regard to the Pakistan Medical Association’s call for a 15-day lockdown in the metropolis after hospitals filled up with Covid patients infected with what authorities say is the highly contagious Delta strain of the virus.
He said complete lockdowns did not work in India and Bangladesh and had a very negative effect. He made the remarks at a news conference at the NCOC flanked by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan.
Umar said he supported the steps taken by the Sindh government so far and said the federal government would extend its complete support to the province. “Sindh is taking proactive measures, which is the right thing to do right now,” he said.
Sindh’s urban areas, particularly Karachi, have been the focus of the recent spike in cases, and the provincial government’s task force on coronavirus is set to decide whether to impose stricter measures. On Thursday, NCOC data showed that 54 per cent of the city’s oxygen beds were in use, the highest in the country.
The development comes as Pakistan recorded 4,497 more Covid cases in the 24 hours leading to Thursday, the country’s largest increase in infections since April 30, which had more than 4,600 cases. The deaths — 76 — were also the highest since June 8. Active cases stood at 59,761.
Authorities blame the surge in cases on a combination of public indifference to safety measures and vaccine hesitancy. To maintain the pace of inoculation, the federal government set August 31 as the deadline to get vaccinated, following which only jabbed staff and people would be allowed to enter both public and private sector offices, businesses and “high risk sectors”.
The planning minister said: “This is being done for you. This is not a punishment but acknowledgment to make you realise that you play an important role for this society and economy. And we, on a priority basis, want that your health is not compromised so that your livelihood continues and the economy also continues [to function].”
The NCOC had already announced earlier that unvaccinated people would be barred from domestic flights from August 1, and similarly, teachers and staff would also not be allowed to enter educational institutions un-jabbed from that date. “We cannot take risks on children,” he said, adding that around 80 per cent of teachers had already been vaccinated.
The August 31 ban would be extended to other sectors and places where the risk of coronavirus spread is high due to the assembly of people, like the transport sector, markets and public-dealing offices. “These are all places where large numbers of people visit and get to meet people there and are exposed to the virus,” he said.
The minister said drivers, who provide pick-and-drop facility to schoolchildren would be required to vaccinate themselves while those travelling on public transport should also follow the deadline.
Students 18 and above would also have to get themselves vaccinated to attend educational institutions while employees of private and public sector entities would not be allowed to enter their offices unvaccinated after August 31.
In addition, people in high-risk areas including hotels, restaurants and marriage halls would also have to get vaccinated in addition to those of law enforcement agencies, banks, Nadra, markets, shopping malls and chain stores.
The minister said people should realise that whatever they do has an effect; if they follow standard operating procedures (SOPs), the coronavirus will definitely come down and if they ignore them, the pandemic will spread.
However, he said there were problems in compliance with coronavirus SOPs all across the country. Giving data about the compliance, the minister said 56.4 per cent followed SOPs in the federal capital, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was 46.6 per cent, followed by Azad Jammu and Kashmir with 42.7 per cent, Gilgit Baltistan 37.4 per cent, Punjab 38 per cent and Sindh and Balochistan 33 per cent.
Umar, however, said the implementation of SOPs is not the only solution, people need to get vaccinated as early as possible. Talking about the ongoing vaccination drive, the minister said the government intended to raise the vaccination target to one million people a day adding that a record 849,692 people were vaccinated on July 28; 778,000 on July 27; and 680,000 on July 26. He said the single dose vaccinations also saw the highest 637,000 in a day.
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