Planning minister stresses that public compliance with government-issued guidelines remains best weapon against pandemic
Planning Minister Asad Umar on Sunday warned that the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) was considering imposing targeted lockdowns in areas of cities with high incidence of COVID-19 to curb the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
“We will present recommendations [in this regard] to the prime minister,” he told a press conference from Islamabad alongside Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan. “It would then be decided which sectors need to be closed down and to what extent,” he said.
According to the minister, the Delta variant—which was originally identified in India—is spreading 60-70 percent faster than the Alpha variant—originally identified in the U.K.—which itself spread 70 percent faster than the original strain of the virus that originated in China. “It [Delta] is highly transmissible and can be transmitted from the patient to all family members in no time,” he warned, noting that it was already spreading rapidly across Pakistan.
Referring to the regional spread of the pandemic, he said the situation in India, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia had rapidly deteriorated due to the spread of Delta. It is therefore, he stressed, essential to control its spread through targeted closures and full adherence to government-issued guidelines. “The biggest weapon against the pandemic is in the hands of common people, who can help end the pandemic by following guidelines issued by the government,” he added.
The minister also reiterated upon the importance of getting inoculated against the pandemic, adding that the federal government was spending Rs. 200 billion to procure and distribute the vaccines. He credited the public for setting new daily records for vaccinations in the past week, noting that five million doses were administered in past six days, with over 900,000 in the past 24 hours alone. “It took 113 days [since the launch of the vaccination drive] to achieve the first 10 million doses target of vaccination,” he added.
During his press conference, Umar said the media interaction’s purpose was to brief the public on the successes achieved against the pandemic thanks to the centralized efforts of the NCOC. He stressed that the NCOC was an apolitical forum, adding that it had equal regard for all federating units. He said if the national response remained united, the country would be able to cope with the contagion.
Both the center and the provinces “are in this situation together,” he said, stressing that the best response was one achieved through consensus, as individual measures could be plagued by mismanagement and cause trouble for citizens. If restrictions are imposed in a targeted manner, he said, the livelihoods of people could be protected.
During his address to media, Dr. Sultan said it was now clear that the country was passing through a fourth wave of the pandemic, adding that the national positivity rate had crossed 8 percent after several months. He warned that 55 percent of patients admitted to hospitals in Karachi were on intensive care, adding that 480-500 people were being admitted to coronavirus wards daily in the past week.
The SAPM noted that the rapid surge in cases had started burdening the country’s health sector, especially in cities such as Abbottabad and Islamabad. He urged the public to wear masks, avoid crowded place, and keep rooms well-ventilated to curb the spread of the disease. He also reiterated that vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness by a factor of 10 and urged everyone to get inoculated as soon as possible.