The final phase of the ongoing vaccination campaign against coronavirus would be initiated after Eidul Fitr, covering people of every age group, Planning Minister Asad Umar announced on Thursday, as the country witnessed the highest number of new Covid cases in a day in nearly 10 months.
The country remains in the firm grip of the third wave of Covid-19, driven by the UK strain of the virus, which spiked the single-day tally of new cases to more than 4,000 since the second week of March. However, with the advent to April the tally crossed the 5,000 cases twice.
On Thursday, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which serves as the nerve centre of the government’s anti-pandemic strategy, reported 5,329 new cases in the past 24 hours, which is the highest number since June 2020, when the first wave of the disease was at its peak.
Umar, who heads the NCOC, told a select group of senior journalists that China was Pakistan’s “primary source” for vaccination for now and expressed the hope that after Eid the country would have the capacity to administer 125,000 vaccine shots per day.
“Covid-19 vaccination registration will be open to all citizens after Eid,” Umar told the journalists. “We began a phase-wise approach in the beginning [and are expanding it now],” he added. “Vaccinating the population has always been a priority.”
The vaccination campaign started in February with frontline health workers getting the jabs on a priority. In the next phase in March the government allowed vaccination of senior citizens or those over 60 years of age. Later the government lowered the age limit to 50 years.
Speaking about the availability of the vaccine, the minister said that for now, China remained the primary source of procurement. “CanSino Covid-19 vaccine will also be available after Eid,” he said, adding: “We will be able to vaccinate more than 125,000 people per day after Eid.”
Besides the government’s campaign of free vaccination, the private sector has also been allowed to import the doses. Umar said that so far, 14,000 people had received vaccine through the private sector, while 1.1 million were inoculated as part of the government campaign.
The government is also trying to get vaccines from other sources, including COVAX and Gavi Alliance. Umar said that Pakistan was getting in touch with Russia to procure the Sputnik V vaccine at the government level. “We are waiting for a response from them,” he said.
Coronavirus first emerged in the country in February 2020. The first wave of the disease subsided after July but the cases spiked again towards the end of the year, dubbed by experts “the second wave”. Since March Covid-19 cases rose abruptly, described as the third wave.
Umar termed the next five to six weeks “critical” in the ongoing third wave. He noted with concern that the current number of critical care patients in the country was higher than during the first coronavirus wave.
According to the NCOC data, the number of active Covid-19 cases rose 66,994 with 5,329 more people testing positive for the virus in the last 24 hours. Among them 4,726 patients were admitted to various hospitals across the country, while the positivity ratio remained over 10%.
The NCOC said that 98 patients, 90 of them under treatment in hospitals, including 31 on ventilators, died during the 24 hours. Most of the deaths, it added, occurred in Punjab, where 62 people succumbed to the deadly contagion, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 23.
Since the pandemic outbreak, a total of 705,517 cases were detected—13,873 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 19,999 in Balochistan, 5,070 in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), 63,499 in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 94,880 in K-P, 240,584 in Punjab and 267,612 in Sindh.
According to the NCOC, 623,399 people have recovered from the disease so far across Pakistan – including 2,610 during the last 24 hours – making it a significant count with over 90% recovery ratio of the affected persons.
The nationwide death toll has risen to 15,124 – 4,520 in Sindh, 6,793 in Punjab, 2,519 in K-P, 591 in ICT, 212 in Balochistan, 103 in G-B and 386 in AJK. A total of 10,584,877 corona tests have been conducted so far, including 49,816 tests conducted across the country on Wednesday.