Despite the start of vaccination, the number of Covid-19 cases in the country continues to rise
The third wave of the pandemic continues to sweep across Pakistan’s cities and the ongoing government-run vaccination drive in the country has had no impact on it.
The latest surge in fresh cases is being associated with a new variant of Covid-19 that is spreading rapidly across the globe. It has now hit Pakistan and the infections’ spike is growing steeper by the day. Besides ordinary citizens, some dignitaries including President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and several members of his cabinet, parliamentarians and bureaucrats have been infected.
Sadly, Prime Minster Khan showed scant regard for the SOPs his government recommends and held a couple of meetings with his close aides during the period he was supposed to isolate himself.
He also addressed a meeting of the national coordination committee through video link on Wednesday and ruled out the possibility of a general lockdown. “We will have to devise and adopt a policy that can stop the spread of the virus and help the economy keep going without a major dent.”
The National Command and Operation Centre reported 4,757 new infections and 78 deaths on March 30. The NCOC also stated that two-thirds of ventilators and around 80 percent of oxygenated beds in major cities are currently occupied.
On April 1, the country reported the highest single-day toll since June 30 as 4,974 new cases were reported. The positivity rate of coronavirus cases stood at 9.92 percent with a total of 672,931 cases. On the same day, the country reported 98 more deaths from the disease, taking the country-wide death tally to 14,530. In the Punjab, 19,367 children have tested positive for the virus so far. A total of 8,520 were infected during the first three months of 2021.
The government has again adopted a policy of smart lockdowns at various hot spots in major cities. A ban has been imposed on weddings from April 5. The government is also considering putting more restrictions on inter-provincial travel.
Analyst Lt Gen Amjad Shoaib (retired) says that strict measures like fines and registration of cases against those not following the SoPs are the only option left to stop the spread of the virus.
“The government should adopt a zero-tolerance policy against violators of the SoPs,” says Shoaib.
Vaccination is a big challenge for the government. Besides the availability concern, some people are still reluctant to take the vaccine.
Mismanagement is another issue. 500 doses of vaccine are reported to have been wasted at Mozang Hospital, Lahore. Another 550 doses reportedly went missing from the stock at the Services Hospital, Lahore.
Talking to The News on Sunday (TNS), Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid said, “The vaccine doses at Mozang Hospital expired because they were not stored under the prescribed protocol. We have suspended the medical superintendent, Dr Munir Ghauri [from service].”
About the Services Hospital’s incident, she said, “Around 550 doses have been missing from the stock… we have ordered an audit.” Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has also ordered an inquiry to determine the facts.
“We need to vaccinate 30 percent of the population… the rest are young people who do not develop serious symptoms,” says Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid.
“This is a dangerous trend. The missing shots might be sold in the black market,” says Zafar Bhatti, an importer of pharmaceutical goods.
According to Dr Faisal Sultan, over 800,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in Pakistan till March 31. The vaccine, donated by China, is being administered at the public vaccination centres and hospitals.
Dr Javed Hayat, a member of the Punjab committee on Covid-19 says, “The government has approved only Sinopharm, CanSino and Sputnik V for consumption in Pakistan so far because they can be preserved in our weather conditions.”
He says availability of the vaccines is not the main problem, the will of the people is. “Many people are suspicious about it… It is unfortunate that even some of the medical and para-medical staff is avoiding the vaccines following fake news about the vaccine’s effects.”
He says we need to vaccinate most of the population of major cities where the infection rate is high. “We don’t need to vaccinate the population below 18.”
Dr Yasmeen Rashid agrees: “We need to vaccinate 30 percent of the pollution as the rest are young people who do not develop serious symptoms.”
It will be an uphill task for the government to vaccinate even the 66 million Pakistanis that make up 30 percent of the population.
She says the government is waiting for World Health Organisation’s allocations of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. She says the government is also planning to purchase a concentrated form of the Chinese CanSino vaccine next month to produce 3 million doses locally.
On the other hand, a private pharma company got into a dispute with the federal and Sindh governments on the issue of pricing of Sputnik V. The government had permitted the private sector to import and sell vaccines. On the order of the private company, 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine arrived in Pakistan on March 17. However, Customs did not release those following the price dispute between the company and the government.
The firm challenged Rs 8,000 price fixed by the government, calling it too low in a statement before the Sindh High Court. Its counsel told the court that the company had ordered 1 million doses at $45/ unit. It said the price prescribed by the government did not suit the importer.
The lawyer told the court that while allowing the private sector to import the vaccine, the government had not placed any restriction on the price. The company, he said, imported 50,000 shots of the vaccine. The Sindh government and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan opposed the price demanded by the company but the court ordered DRAP to immediately release the vaccine to the firm in the iterst of saving precious lives.
A DRAP official told TNS that the price of Sputnik vaccine has now been fixed at Rs 12,268 for two dozes.
Dr Javed Hayat says it is sad that the rich people in Pakistan are trying to make a profit by selling medicines at exorbitant prices. “The rich should come forward and donate vaccine for the poor the way leading businessmen in a neigbouring country have done.”
Dr Sajjad Haider, a public health policy expert, says, “The government has made Pakistan the first country in South Asia that is dependent on the private sector for vaccination.” He says that the fixed price for Sputnik V is too high and a majority of people cannot afford it. “At this price, only the rich will be able to get it.”
He says that the importer and the government must look at the Sputnik’s prices in Bangladesh and India. “The government has allowed itself to be blackmailed by the importer. This will encourage more profiteers,” says Haider.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher