The third wave of Covid-19 has turned out to be deadlier than the previous two. Both infection and fatality rate are much higher than before. According to available figures, the positivity ratio has increased more than three times in the last few weeks. It was 3.3 per cent by the end of February while lately it has hovered around 10pc.
The highest positivity ratio is being registered in urban areas. While the highest positivity ratio is in Peshawar (22.3pc), followed by Gujranwala (19.7pc), Lahore (18.6pc); the situation is comparatively better in Karachi (4.6pc), Gujrat (4.4pc) and Jhelum (1.6pc). In the third wave, the number of critical care patients has already surpassed those at the peak of the first wave, even though the positivity ratio in June last year was much higher than what it is today.
During the first wave, the month of June 2020 had witnessed the highest one-day death toll of 124. The death toll has gone up dangerously and went into triple figures (103) in the first week of April 2021, the first time since June last year. Officials fear the high toll may continue because of the very high number of people in a critical condition in hospitals.
As things stand, the government is doing its best to deal with the mounting challenge but the response from the public has remained poor. It has forced the government to impose strict lockdown in urban centres and call in the army to ensure the observance of the SOPs. The NCOC is said to be continuously monitoring critical care occupancy across the country for any additional requirements and hospital management. Recently, hospital bed capacity for corona care has been enhanced in Lahore, Peshawar, Swat, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Multan and Islamabad.
Experts agree that beyond face masks and social distancing, the long-term solution lies in accelerating the vaccination process. The NCOC aims to ensure vaccination of 15-20 million Pakistanis in the next two to three months, but this is doubtful because the original timelines for the government’s procurement of vaccines were disturbed due to delays in the availability of vaccines from the global alliance GAVI.
Although officials say the improved availability of vaccines after Eid would speed up the process of inoculation, at present the vaccination process is progressing at a pace that is slower than required. Pakistan’s population is estimated at 220 million. It is an accepted fact globally that people under the age of 18 will not require a vaccine. If we take out all Pakistanis under the age of 18 from the total population, that leaves roughly 100 million people. It means 100 million Pakistanis above the age of 18 will need to be vaccinated without taking into account all those who got infected and recovered from it.
There are plans to open registration for all age groups after Eid. The NCOC’s aim is to reach a stage where 250,000 Pakistanis can be vaccinated each day, and to this end by the end of May the government should be in a position to vaccinate between 125,000 and 250,000 daily.
Needless to say, to speed up inoculations the government will have to bridge vaccine supply gaps. According to the latest figures, a little over 1.8 million Pakistanis have so far got vaccinated at government facilities, besides around 80,000, who paid to get vaccine shots at private hospitals.
It may be added here that the vaccination drive in Pakistan started in the first week of March. It means roughly 40,000 people are getting vaccinated daily all across the country. At this rate, it will take about three years to cover 20pc of the country’s population. According to a report by an international agency, the vaccine coverage in Pakistan currently stands at about half a per cent of the population. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs.
The slow pace of inoculation has implications that go beyond our borders. Restrictions may be placed on international travel and mobility of our citizens as well as movement of commercial consignments. It will affect both our economy and employment situation.
As recommended by renowned doctors, the government needs to formulate a long term plan to ensure quick acquisition of vaccines from all sources and their systematic, quick and fair distribution among all sections of the population throughout the country. An aggressive strategy needs to be adopted in this regard. The government should not just wait for its share of vaccine handouts from GAVI and other donors but directly contact manufacturers and buy its requirements from them. At the same time, we should request our evergreen friend China to help us out of our desperate situation. The government should allocate maximum funds for the purpose. We face a health emergency and there is no room for complacency in this regard.