After managing the first wave of coronavirus infections, the government should now be preparing for the second. For its earlier work, the Imran Khan government earned praise in the manner the first wave was dealt with. World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom praised the Pakistani government’s response against coronavirus and “recognised the positive trend of virus curtailment” in the country.
In an op-ed in a British online newspaper recently, Dr Tedros lauded Pakistan’s strategy saying that the country deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to coronavirus. He also wrote that those community health workers who were trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children against polio have been redeployed and utilised for surveillance, contact tracing and care.
Earlier, Dr Tedros had listed Pakistan among six countries from which the international community should learn how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The challenge was to impose restrictions in such a way that the economy was not unduly impacted. More importantly, that the daily-wage earners would not suffer unduly. This is something that had been achieved to a large extent by the government.
But now with the re-opening of schools and educational institutions, we are seeing that numbers which had mercifully fallen have started to rise again. The government has decided to go for what it calls “small smart lockdowns”. This includes placing restrictions on buildings or houses instead of streets or mohallas.
We all know that the coronavirus is far from over. Some countries are still dealing with large epidemics like neighbouring India, but even those currently controlling the virus are waiting for the second wave. October started with the depressing news that the official death toll from Covid-19 surpassed one million worldwide as casualties continued to mount from a pandemic that has ravaged lives and countries.
The pandemic has brought great cities to a standstill, closed schools and factories, grounded air transport and unleashed the ongoing social and political uncertainty. It triggered restrictions on where people could go and when, while ushering in mandates to wear face coverings and discourage close contact with fellow humans. This seems to be the new world order — we call it the “new normal”.
Many victims perished alone, secluded in hospital wards and sealed-off rooms, their loved ones barred from their final moments. In Pakistan, there were several heart-wrenching stories as well. Namaz-e-Janaza for victims in Pakistan were held from a distance and people started questioning what the world held in store in coming times. We have come a long way since. Public confidence is being restored and activity is returning to pre-Covid times. This, of course, has meant that infections are also again on the rise.
According to some health sources, Pakistan is the 18th most-impacted country in the world, in terms of confirmed cases of the deadly virus. But given its population density as well as other factors, it has the potential of rising fast.
Dr Tedros recently said the pandemic could be over in under two years but warned that “no country can just pretend the pandemic is over”. This is a strong message for countries whose leadership is in danger of being complacent.
Pakistan is one such country. Here, due to some natural phenomenon and lack of extensive testing, the country till a month back was recording hundreds of Covid-19 cases daily, as compared to thousands in May and June. But, even with lesser cases, the facts on the ground remain unchanged.
The question now is how prepared we are for the second wave. Pakistan has a weak healthcare system and is unable to effectively provide proper medical care to its millions. We have not been able to eliminate infectious diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis and most importantly, polio. We do not have the resources or the infrastructure in place. Experts now say that even if a vaccine for coronavirus is available quickly, there are few immediate benefits for less developed countries like Pakistan.
It is time perhaps for another round of measures. From public service messages to ensuring that people wear masks and follow SOPs in public spaces. For many it seems that the coronavirus has been eliminated in Pakistan. We have resumed public gatherings and it is clear people are not following SOPs. This could have far-reaching effects in days to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2020.