Planning minister says Pakistan has a margin ‘of a few days’ to curb spread of pandemic before its infrastructure exceeds capacity
If Pakistan cannot reduce the spread of the ongoing third wave of the coronavirus pandemic “within a few days,” the government will have no choice but to shut down major cities, Planning Minister Asad Umar warned on Wednesday.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which he also chairs, he said that the current spread of the pandemic had reached “alarming” levels in several cities. “The pandemic is spreading swiftly through major urban centers of all federating units,” he warned, providing details of the most recent positivity ratios.
He said Mardan has reported a positivity of 33 percent; Peshawar 26%; Nowshera 20%; Bahawalpur 38%; Faisalabad 25%; Lahore 27%; Multan 21%; Rawalpindi 28%; Hyderabad 14%; Karachi 13%. “Our active cases are now over 83,000,” he stressed, noting that the greater the number of overall cases, the more people required hospitalization, and a certain percentage of those required oxygenation, placing greater pressure on healthcare infrastructure.
“Two months ago, we were admitting 150-175 new COVID-19 patients to hospital per day, but this has now risen to more than 600,” he said. “There are currently more than 4,500 people requiring critical care through oxygenation or ventilators,” he said, noting that this was a 30 percent boost over the 3,400 or so patients that had required critical care during the previous peak in June.
“In this scenario, deaths unfortunately tend to increase,” he said, noting that the current week is set to record the highest number of deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Pakistan since the start of the pandemic last year. “We increased the capacity of our healthcare facilities over the past year, so we can handle this situation for now,” he said, but noted that there were several cities where ventilator occupancy had crossed 80 percent. “This is a very dangerous situation,” he warned, adding that another crisis was in the offing, as the country’s oxygen supply chain was at risk because the country’s production capacity was now at over 90 percent.
Stressing that Pakistan’s situation was relatively better than its surrounding region, which he credited to the government’s targeted interventions, the planning minister said that Iran had jumped from around 7,900 daily cases two months ago to more than 25,000 now. “It is also reporting daily deaths of over 300, and the situation is worsening,” he said. “The situation in India is worse,” he warned. “Around two months ago, they were reporting 14,000 daily cases. Yesterday, it was over 275,000 new cases,” he said, noting that deaths had likewise jumped from 90 to more than 2,000.
“The entire region is experiencing a very dangerous wave of the pandemic,” he said. “We have also heard of the double mutant emerging in India, which is why we have implemented a travel ban on travelers from the country,” he added.
Appealing to the public to realize how serious the situation was, he said everyone must come together to take care of themselves, their families, and their fellow Pakistanis. “During the month of Ramzan, we should be worried about worship and faith, and not having to take care of our ailing citizens or of burying bodies,” he added.
“We will announce new restrictions on Friday,” said Umar, stressing that if the current situation was not brought under control, the government would have no choice but to shut down large cities. “This is our last chance,” he warned. “We are not shutting down cities for now, but our margin [to control the pandemic] is now down to a few days. If we see progress in the public response and in enforcement [of SOPs by] district administrations, then we will not have to take this step,” he said. “But we may soon have no choice left.”
The planning minister concluded his statement by appealing to all provincial authorities to ensure compliance with SOPs. “The federal government is ready to offer any support you require,” he said. “But we need leadership now,” he said, adding that he especially appealed to the chief ministers of all provinces to sit with their district administrators and healthcare officials and inform the public of the current threat. “You are the elected representatives of your provinces; the people will listen to you,” he said. “Allah has helped us before. If we take care of ourselves and the people around us, he will help us once again,” he added.
Pakistan on Wednesday recorded 5,499 new cases of the novel coronavirus after conducting 47,301 tests, a positivity ratio of 11.62 percent. The death toll from COVID-19 has reached 16,600, while the total number of cases nationwide now stands at 772,381. According to the NCOC, there are currently 4,528 patients admitted to hospitals across Pakistan who require critical care in the form of ventilator support or oxygenation.