The third wave of coronavirus is on the wane and the government intended to gradually open up business activities, Planning Minister Asad Umar, who supervises the government’s unified strategy against the pandemic, said on Monday.
Umar, the head of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), revealed at a press conference that the positivity ratio of Covid-19 had declined to 4%, from almost 11% peak of the pandemic in the month of April.
The minister also said that vaccination campaign was being expanded to all adults – up to the age of 18 years – and expressed the hope that enough population would be given vaccine jabs by Eidul Azha, therefore, there would be no need to impose restrictions as seen during Eidul Fitr.
“The positivity rate, which reached 10-11%, had come down to 4.5% last week and yesterday (Sunday) it was just over 4%,” Umar told reporters. However, he mentioned that the positivity rate was “still a bit high” in Sindh, and the situation needed to be handled carefully there.
Coronavirus first emerged in the country in February last year. The cases started declining in July after seeing a peak in June. The disease spread increased towards the end of the year, dubbed by experts the “second wave”.
However, a deadlier surge in the cases was witnessed in March. Umar had described the surge as the third wave of the pandemic, which was driven by the UK strain of the virus. The disease hit a peak of more than 6,000 cases in a single day in the month of April.
At the press conference, Umar urged caution, despite the declining number of Covid cases in May.
“Fortunately, Pakistan did not witness the situation faced by some other countries in the region but we still need to be cautious because pandemic is not over yet,” he said.
Umar emphasised that the only way to get rid of Covid-19 pandemic was the vaccination of “as many people as possible and as quickly as possible”. In this regard, he announced the initiation of a campaign to encourage people to get the vaccine shots.
“We’re seeing a positive trend in countries where a large number of people are being vaccinated,” he said. “The positivity ratio in these countries is on the decline and they’re now moving towards a normal life... we have to do the same in Pakistan,” he added.
So far, over 7 million people have received Covid jabs in the country, while the government intends to inoculate 70 million people by December.
“The way the media ran awareness campaigns for the pandemic, we want similar kind of cooperation from them for the vaccination campaign,” he added.
Responding to a question, he said that the government would approach religious scholars also to use their influence for the vaccination campaign. “We have requested the president to meet the ulema and convey this [vaccination] message to them,” he added.
The minister defended the restrictions imposed during Eidul Fitr holidays, in the middle of last month, saying that the curbs played a major role in the decline of positivity rate. He added those restrictions were a “defensive action”.
The minister said that by Eidul Azha – which will fall in the third week of next month – the government hoped to administer enough vaccine shots, therefore, there would be no need for the restrictions, as seen last month.
Earlier, Umar announced that vaccination for the young population would commence from June 3 (Thursday). In a tweet, he urged the people to start registering as soon as possible, adding that “this step ensured vaccination of all eligible age groups”.
“The next stage that we are going to is called the whole of nation approach,” Umar said. This means that “the whole nation has to work together” for the vaccination drive, he added. “To make sure that the vaccine reaches everyone, we are launching a major campaign.”
The government started the vaccination drive in February this year, by attaching priority to the frontline health workers in administering the jabs donated by China. The campaign was expanded to other age groups, starting from the elderly, in phases.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said on Monday that the authorities were in talks with Pfizer to procure its vaccine through bilateral agreements but added that the deal was not final yet, according to a media report.
According to officials, the Pfizer vaccine would be given to immune-compromised people and those traveling abroad under the age of 40. They added that 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected in July or in August.
Officials also said that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) had allowed the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. They added that the vaccine – which is 95% effective against coronavirus – could be administered to the people above the age of 16 years.
Separately, the NCOC said in its daily update of the disease that the national tally of active Covid-19 cases inched up to 59,033, as 2,117 more people tested positive for the virus, while 1,919 people recovered from the disease during the last 24 hours, adding that the positivity ratio was 4.05%.
Among the active cases, the NCOC said, 4,280 patients were admitted to various Covid dedicated healthcare facilities. Among them, it added, 3,947 patients were in critical care, including 448 on ventilators.
The forum said that 43 patients, including 15 on ventilators, died during the past 24 hours, adding that most of the deaths, 17, occurred in hospitals in Punjab, followed by 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and four in Sindh.
As of Monday, the country’s caseload of the pandemic rose to 921,053, including 841,241 recoveries. The nationwide death toll also soared to 20,779. So far, the NCOC said, 13,221,581 coronavirus tests had been conducted.
(WITH INPUT FROM APP)