FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 20

Heading for another lockdown?

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths has risen sharply after lockdown was further eased in Pakistan. People bulldozed all the precautions to cram markets ahead of Eid and experts fear a steep rise in the cases in days to come. It is feared Pakistan may have to reimpose restrictions to check the spike.

Data shows that the cases have risen from 34,336 to 60,074 from May 13 to 27. Fatalities have reached 1,240 from 737 during the period. Previously, the death rate in Pakistan from the virus was below 2pc, far better than the world average. Statistics show that the rate of fatalities surged after May 14 and it hovered between 2.5 and 4.92pc till May 27. It is the period when the country started lifting restrictions gradually. The hardest hit is Sindh, with 24,206 confirmed cases and 380 deaths, followed by the Punjab, with 21,118 cases and 362 deaths. The situation is not that serious in other provinces of the country, though the cases are rising constantly.

Despite the rising number of cases, the mortality rate in Pakistan is much lower than what was being feared when the pandemic struck. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Pakistan was among countries which were more vulnerable to Covid-19 due to lack of preparedness keeping in view the level of human development, healthcare system capacity and internet access. For every 10,000 people, Pakistan has only 9.8 physicians, five nurses and only six hospital beds. The country spends only 2.8 per cent of its GDP on health. According to the report, Pakistan has witnessed a massive increase in its confirmed cases from the initial two confirmed on February 26, 2020. More developed countries have on average 55 hospital beds, over 30 physicians, and 81 nurses per 10,000 people. The least developed nations on average have seven hospital beds, 2.5 physicians, and six nurses. According to data, India has 7.8 physicians for every 10,000 people whereas it has 21 nurses and 7 hospital beds for every 10,000 persons. India spends 3.7pc of its total GDP on health. The South Asian region has 7.8 physicians per 10,000 people. The region has 17 nurses and eight hospital beds for every 10,000 people.

The UNDP report rightly points out flaws in Pakistan’s healthcare system. Undoubtedly, the country’s spending on the sector is among the lowest in the world and the region. Successive governments have failed to invest in the vital sector and there are little chances of its improvement after the sector has been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment. No doubt, Pakistan was not prepared for the pandemic but what about the developed countries and their modern healthcare systems? All crumbled under the pandemic.

Statistics show the cases are on the rise the world over. More than 350,000 deaths from the new coronavirus have been recorded worldwide since it first appeared in China in December. A total of 350,196 deaths have been reported, from 5,589,389 cases, including 173,713 in Europe from 2,057,414 infections. The United States has registered the most deaths of any country, 98,929, ahead of Britain with 37,048, Italy with 32,955, France with 28,530 and Spain with 27,117.

Like Pakistan, most countries are lifting restrictions at a time when infections are increasing. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that countries where the infections are declining could still face an “immediate second peak” if they let up too soon on measures to halt the outbreak. According to WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan, “when we speak about a second wave classically what we often means is there will be a first wave of the disease by itself, and then it recurs months later. But we need to be cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time.” In addition to the threat of a second wave hitting countries that have loosened lockdowns, some countries have not yet had a first peak. He said countries in Europe and North America should “continue to put in place the public health and social measures, the surveillance measures, the testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we continue on a downwards trajectory and we don’t have an immediate second peak.”

Pakistan is fighting the pandemic despite serious rifts among its political parties over its national strategy. The Centre and the Sindh government are involved in political point scoring over the fight against the coronavirus and blame each other for failing their strategy. Each side complains about lack of support from the other. In fact, the Sindh government accused the federal government of increasing the number of cases in the province by using the biometric system for the registration of needy people for a relief operation. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government accused the Centre of violating all precautionary measures in the distribution of relief funds among people. It even threatened to arrest the officials involved but warned, “We don’t want to damage any impression of national unity and send a wrong message in the challenging times.”

The PPP government is doing its best to deal with the situation. It deserves appreciation for it. Our experts heap praise on it in their daily analysis on news channels. However, they do not miss an opportunity to criticize the federal government for its “poor strategy” in other provinces, especially in the Punjab, which was the last to enforce lockdown and the first to loosen it. However, they miss the point that the Punjab population is more than double that of Sindh. Still, its cases and fatalities are less than that of Sindh. Its lockdown was also not as strict as that of Sindh.

The number of cases is rising in Pakistan but the death rate is still lower than most countries of the world. It is not clear that whether Pakistan has enforced an effective strategy or the situation is the result of other factors, however, it is a fact that fatalities have not increased sharply after lockdown was loosened. It is hoped Pakistan will not see another lockdown.