Punjab Health Department summary estimates 670,000 cases of coronavirus in provincial capital as of May 15, refutes justification of ‘smart lockdown’
A summary prepared by the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, and sent to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on May 15, has claimed that randomized targeted sampling and smart sampling for the novel coronavirus has found that in provincial capital Lahore “no workplace and residential area of any town is disease-free.”
The summary, which was submitted by Health Secretary Capt. (retd.) Muhammad Usman, states that the results of random testing in Lahore show that 6 percent of all tested “were positive with few towns showing positivity as high as 14.7 percent.” It said that if this were extrapolated to Lahore’s entire population (11.8 million), the actual cases in the city would be 670,800, far exceeding the federal government’s estimates and surpassing the nationwide confirmed cases, which are currently around 72,000.
According to the report, a working group consisting of a consortium of epidemiologists, public health specialists, applied economists, statisticians and public policy specialists prepared it with the approval of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Coronavirus Threat.
It said that on the directions of the Government of Punjab, and the technical assistance of the working group, the department initiated “smart sampling to detect and determine the spread of COVID-19 “to structure and guide its response toward its containment.”
After having conducted sampling through randomized targeted sampling, and smart sampling, says the report, a “worrisome picture of the COVID-19 prevalence in the communities is emerging i.e. positivity rate at 5.18 percent in RTS and 6.01 percent in SS, respectively. It said that data retrieved from various hotspots, including workplaces and residential areas, was thus comparable.
“The town-wise break-up shows a value of more than 3 percent for all towns, except Wagha Town, and ranges between 211 to 9.33 percent, thereby refuting the justification of zoning and smart lockdown,” it reads, adding that this means all of Lahore is exhibiting an “alarmingly similar transmission pattern.”
The summary has recommended that a “complete lockdown” be implemented for at least 4 weeks “immediately.” Additionally, it says that any relaxation in the lockdown measures should only be decided after reviewing the results of smart sampling at regular intervals until the virus starts to recede. “Special emphasis should be on (1) quarantine/isolation of elderly (50 years and above); (2) mandatory stay at home policy; (3) minimal interaction with household members with enhanced contact and droplet precautions.”
The report also advises a re-energized public awareness campaign with a special focus on the elderly population, and the development of a timely plan for surge capacity in all healthcare facilities to deal with any “unprecedented situation likely to emerge in coming few weeks.”
Despite this summary having been sent on May 15—two weeks ago—the Punjab government has repeatedly stated that the situation is “under control” and cited federal models to claim infections are actually lesser than predicted. The province has recommended that even more segments of the economy be opened up—and not closed as recommended by the working group—including wedding halls, tourist hotspots, cinemas and restaurants.