With Covid cases having recently surged across the country, particularly in Karachi, there is renewed talk and effort to once again make the public aware and the state health machinery more active to prevent any untoward situation as was witnessed in the previous pandemic years
The News on Sunday reached out to Dr Syed Faisal Mahmood, associate professor and section head for infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University as well as Dr Lubna Ansari Baig, chairperson of the Institute of Public Health, Jinnah Sindh Medical University and Dr Samreen Ashraf Qureshi, Sindh’s provincial focal person for Covid-19 vaccination to understand the recent surge in Covid and how concerned should the people and the government be. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday (TNS): There has been a surge recently in Covid-19 cases in Pakistan. To what do you attribute the sudden increase in the number of infections?
Dr Syed Faisal Mahmood (SFM): There are a number of reasons for the surge. It has been six months since the last surge and the booster drive and the immunity we developed are waning. Also, the new variant is able to bypass immunity from previous infections. The overall adherence to Covid-related SOPs is very low as people are under the impression that Covid-19 is finished.
TNS: Can people who have completed their vaccinations and taken booster shots still contract Covid-19?
(SFM): Yes, they can. However, vaccines are very important; they reduce the risk of contracting severe illness and death.
TNS: Is the recent surge in Covid coinciding with Eid ul Azha a cause for concern for the people and the government?
Dr Lubna Ansari Baig (LAB): This is a cause of concern. Many people are buying sacrificial animals and, in the process, some are not following the SOPs. If more cases arise the government may be forced to order restrictions that can mess up everyone’s Eid plans. This disease is not directly related to animals. The issue here is that a lot people are not vaccinated and may suffer from Covid with major complications.
Dr Samreen Ashraf Qureshi (SAQ): Obviously, it is a cause for concern because the infectivity is very high. It is higher than with any other variant of the virus to date. The second thing is, we still don’t know when the variant will change its behaviour. Right now, we are not having too many deaths, and hospitalisation is also very low. During Eid, there is a higher chance of the virus spreading in crowded places, cattle farms and shopping malls. So definitely, there is a concern.
TNS: What precautions can be taken by the people on Eid? What interventions can be made by the government to prevent the further spread?
SFM: The precautions remain the same as before. During a surge (such as now), wear a mask if you are indoors and in a crowded or poorly ventilated area, and make sure your vaccination and boosters are complete and up to date.
LAB: Big gatherings should be avoided and where possible, families should gather in open spaces for Eid celebrations. Covering face and nose should become a permanent feature of going out and meeting people.
SAQ: First, at the state level, we can adopt micro-lockdowns and complete lockdowns. We are not imposing them right now but we are closing shopping malls, hotels, etc early. Second, we are asking the public again and again to get their booster dose. They should complete their vaccination. If five months have passed since their complete vaccination, then they should get a booster dose. If four months have passed since the first booster shot, one should get a second booster shot. If one is not vaccinated at all, one should get vaccinated right away. If one has any signs and symptoms, one should get oneself tested.
The usual precautions are wearing masks, practising social distancing, washing hands frequently, avoiding physical contact with individuals showing signs/ symptoms of a flu, and getting tested. We have to follow these precautions as we did during the previous waves. Try to limit meeting relatives on Eid and wear a mask. Also, avoid touching your face, keep a hand sanitiser, and again, frequently wash your hands.
The interviewer is a freelance journalist studying mass communication at the University of Karachi