Lockdown relaxation leaves Punjab govt anxious

Virus cases rise amid concerns about medical capacity

Mian Aslam May 04, 2020

LAHORE: The lockdown relaxation and the subsequent increase in the number of patients in Punjab are dragging the hospital administrations to a point where a shortfall of beds and ventilators could risk lives of coronavirus patients.

A day earlier, the Covid-19 patient count was nearly 7,500 and now the hospitals are bracing for the worst to come. With little equipment and space, and no chance of a cure in sight, the health authorities are worried about life saving equipment falling short compared to the growing number of patients.

“If the number of patients continues to increase, there may be no space left in the hospitals,” a medical expert warned while talking to the Express Tribune.

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Simultaneously, the Punjab government is at a crossroads. They can neither afford to feed millions of citizens at home nor risk a massive health dilemma. Poverty, unemployment, lack of funds and other issues are expected to get worse as the world eagerly awaits an antidote to the sickness which has thrown off economies.

According to the statistics provided by the government of Pakistan, as many as 7,494 Covid-19 confirmed patients are under treatment in Punjab. So far the death toll in the province has been recorded at 121 and the number of recoveries at 2,206.

Though the government has helped more than 1.2 million people under the Ehsaas Programme and Ramazan Relief Package, even more are waiting for government’s financial assistance to survive the partial lockdown.

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Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Sardar Usman Buzdar has initiated a smart sampling programme to detect coronavirus cases in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala, Gujrat and Faisalabad. Under the initiative, Covid-19 tests of media persons, law enforcement officials, administrative officers, health workers, tuberculosis (TB) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients, pregnant women undergoing treatment in hospitals and prisoners will be conducted.

Smart sampling is expected to help identify coronavirus infected patients as per their risk profiles. Till now, samples of 2,144 people have been taken to determine the ground reality of the pandemic infliction.

To overcome the economic woes of the working class, the government has eased the lockdown to allow 9,000 industrial units to operate in Punjab. Industries related to road development, building and construction, export products, and all the factories which have separate labour colonies have also been opened.

Currently, the government is also considering a proposal to open markets and bazaars by dividing them into different zones.

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In order to deal with the emergent health emergency, the government is establishing field hospitals in the major cities and the number of beds in existing hospitals is also being increased.

As of now, the province has the capability to test as many as 7,000 patients daily, however, the administration is looking forward to enhance the testing capacity. Covid-19 tests are currently being conducted in 16 government level-three labs and five private labs in the province.

Moreover, Punjab AIDS Reference Lab is currently conducting more than 2,000 tests, Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute 400, while 100 tests are being conducted at the Punjab Forensic Science Agency, Jinnah Hospital and General Hospital every day.

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At least 100 tests are being conducted in Nishtar Medical College, 390 in Veterinary University and 390 tests in Rawalpindi Medical College on a daily basis. Lahore TB Control Programme, Allied Hospital Faisalabad, Multan TB Control Programme, Institute of Public Health Lahore, Wazirabad Gujranwala Lab, Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) Rawalpindi, Civil Hospital Bahawalpur and District Hospital Dera Ghazi Khan are conducting 190 tests per lab daily. The designated five private labs in Punjab also have the capacity to test at least 1,650 persons for Covid-19 daily.

The number of Covid deaths soared to 121 since lockdown relaxation in the province compared to 28 when the lockdown was strict, an extraordinary increase of 332% in the number of deaths has been witnessed in the last 18 days alone.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2020.