It is too early to declare victory, but the signs are encouraging. The latest reports show the rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country is declining.
According to Planning Minister and National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) Chairman Asad Umar, the positivity ratio — determined by the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus out of the total number tested in a day — has gone down. The minister also said that, whereas in mid-June the rate of those testing positive was 22pc, that percentage has now dropped to around 9pc. As an example, he quoted the figure of 2,145 people who tested positive out of a total of 24,262 tested on July 15.
Asad Umar also shared a breakdown of the Covid-19 data from June 1 to June 15 to demonstrate that daily average tests at 23,403 in the period resulted in approximately 5,056 positive cases. Yet from July 1 to July 15, he said, 22,969 daily tests returned 3,097 positive cases. On the first day of the third week of July, the country recorded fewer than 2,000 new cases, the lowest number of daily cases in months, compared to between 5,000 and 6,000 in May and June.
In view of the improving situation, the government has shut down a 1,000-bed facility for coronavirus patients in Lahore, citing a reduction in the number of new cases and a “home isolation” policy for patients. According to official claims, there has been a 28pc reduction in recent weeks in the number of patients who require ventilators and oxygen cylinders. It is said to be the result of the government’s smart lockdown policy, enforcement of SOPs and a more responsible response from the public.
Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s focal person on the coronavirus, has also come out with an optimistic statement on the epidemic situation in the country. According to him, the peak that hit the country’s healthcare system in the middle of June has curved downwards, mainly because of the government’s lockdown strategy, aggressive public awareness campaigns and visible behavioral change among the masses.
But independent health experts do not agree with the government’s reading of the situation. They are skeptical about the government’s claim, warning it is too early to declare success against the virus that has already infected more than 260,000 people across the country with over 5,500 deaths, while around 70 per cent of the patients have recovered.
They say that a decrease in the number of tests is the main reason behind the dwindling number of new virus cases. The number of coronavirus tests has dropped from 28,000 per day to below 24,500 in the past few weeks, even though the government has developed enhanced testing capacity. In view of it, the Pakistan Medical Association has advised the government to enhance daily Covid-19 tests to 100,000.
According to other medical experts, an important reason for the decrease in the number of tests is that doctors nowadays are not forcing patients to get themselves tested for mild reasons. The panic that hit the people in the initial stages of the outbreak of the epidemic has subsided and people are no more rushing to hospitals and laboratories for Covid-19 tests in case of mild cough, fever and pain.
Experiences from around the world show that all epidemics pass through three stages. First, they start with a bang, then touch the peak and lastly they start declining. In our case, while the panic is by and large over, the threat is still there. The major challenge is posed by patients with no or mild symptoms. If they are not tested, it is difficult to know if they are infected or not.
Experts are of the opinion that virus trends can only be forecast by collecting and analysing data which is gathered through mass testing over a period of time. At present, Pakistan’s trajectory of confirmed Covid-19 cases is outwardly encouraging, but the situation is not yet fully stable.
Regarding the declining number of coronavirus cases, one theory is that it is due to the presence of some kind of inbuilt immunity unique to the Pakistani population. However, such theories have not yet been tested and scientifically proved.
An important reason behind the decline in the infection ratio is said to be heightened awareness among the people of the threat posed by the epidemic and precautionary measures adopted. It seems people have now realized that the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and until a vaccine is developed they have to live with it for months or years.
Surely, the battle against the coronavirus is going to be long and tough and the government and people must prepare for it.