Tuesday September 21, 2021

Lethal wave

July 31, 2021

As the positivity rate for Covid-19 rises across the country to nearly 8, and has been recorded at nearly 24 percent in Karachi, the NCOC and the Sindh government have decided that desperate actions are needed to stop the virus before it overcomes the country. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has said the vast majority of cases have been identified as the extremely fast-spreading Delta variant. Karachi has already reported there is no space in private hospitals to take in more patients and no ventilator staff to run those ventilators that remain empty. In response to the situation, and despite demonstration of disagreement from the centre, the Sindh government has announced a partial lockdown which will begin today and last till August 8. The purpose is to try and halt the virus before it can advance further. At the same time, the Sindh government has also asked the NCOC to announce a step-by-step blocking of SIM cards of unvaccinated people, first stopping outgoing calls, and then other services to persuade people to have themselves vaccinated.

These latest developments call for stringent measures for imposing SOPs and fast delivery of vaccination to as many people as possible. The new variants of the virus appear to be deadlier and more difficult to control. The efficacy of vaccination is not at an equal level in all citizens and requires careful behaviour even by those who have received their two doses of the medicine. That said, essentially vaccination seems to be our main battle. If we fail in getting the majority of our population vaccinated, there can be little hope of defeating Covid-19. The prospect of ending up as a country which remains endemic for the disease is a terrifying thought. After all, this is what has happened to us in the case of polio. In this sense, it is encouraging that the country on Thursday was for the first time able to administer nearly 800,000 vaccines across the country. The NCOC is also using a carrot and stick policy to encourage vaccination, making domestic air travel available only to those who are vaccinated by August 1st and putting similar measures in place for teachers, police officers, government servants and others, including food industry workers, who will not be able to continue their jobs unless they are vaccinated by the end of October.

We need such measures. Although there is no anti-vaccine campaign in Pakistan as such, unlike the US, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance. Fake news has affected people as has disquiet over the vaccine and the rumours spread about it. These have to be combated but at the same time, some tough measures are needed on the part of the government to keep others safe and prevent more deaths from a terrible disease. Pakistan is stepping up its battle against the virus. The identification of hotspots in Gujranwala, Islamabad, AJK and other areas also means that we can focus on these areas and try to ensure that the virus is pushed back before it can take a hold on people and claim more lives. The federal government must make adequate preparations across Pakistan for a looming surge in the pandemic. Education, SOP implementation, and vaccination: Pakistan needs to ensure a campaign that has all three strategies firmly in place.