Containing pandemic: Don’t bother with partial lockdowns, says expert

Rafiq Khanani says window of completely eradicating Covid-19 is still open for Pakistan if it goes for total lockdown

Tufail Ahmed June 16, 2020
PHOTO: Reuters

KARACHI: In a matter of mere weeks, the number of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan has crossed the 146,000 mark. As the authorities revisit potential strategies to contain the Covid-19, a renowned Pakistani expert on viral illnesses told The Express Tribune that country could even now rid itself of the contagion provided it enacted the right measures.

“SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness known as Covid-19 has generate thousands of questions, which in turn have prompted millions of answers, confusing everyone,” said Dr Rafiq Khanani, who heads Advanced Laboratories and the Infection Control Society Pakistan. “The most important question it has generated is ‘why lockdown’.”

To answer that question Dr Khanani described the behaviour of the novel coronavirus. “The most important fundamental limitation of SARS-CoV-2 is its short survival once it finds a human host. It can only last between two and four weeks inside one person’s body, during which it may remain unnoticed, cause either mild, moderate or severe sickness, or death,” he explained.

“Unless the virus finds a new host in those two to four weeks, it dies. But when it does find a new host, this cycle repeats. As such, if everyone infected by Covid-19 isolated themselves for this period, then we could in theory eradicate the virus,” Dr Khanani stressed. “Had we known this when the outbreak was limited to Wuhan, China, a total lockdown of between eight and 10 weeks could have wiped out the virus there and then.”

Dr Khanani put great emphasis on why any lockdown had to be total if we wanted to defeat Covid-19. “By only going for partial lockdowns, we are wasting the window of real opportunity to eliminate the disease. Incomplete lockdowns means the virus has the chance to find new hosts, prolonging the problem by another 10 days,” he said. “Not just that, one person infected with Covid-19 will on average spread the virus to three more people, which is why the number of cases has shot up so drastically. We have even had a case in K-P where one individual infected hundreds.”

“But if we were to enact a complete lockdown for 10 to 12 weeks, the virus would not be able to survive,” Dr Khanani added. “Pakistan has one more window of opportunity due to the effect of high temperature, humidity and UV light from the sun on the virus. If we want to defeat Covid-19, we need to understand and target its vulnerabilities.”

He warned that not taking this opportunity would result in an enormous toll on Pakistani lives. “No blame game will bring back to the life the thousands this virus has killed,” he said, urging the country’s financial planners to carry out an honest analysis of the costs involved in reimposing lockdown

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