Punjab health minister claims working group’s extrapolated data for COVID-19 cases in Lahore has not proven accurate
The Punjab government opted against enforcing a 4-week strict lockdown, as advised by a working group of experts in a two-week-old report, because the province cannot sustain a prolonged lockdown, health minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid said on Tuesday.
“The data contained in that report was extrapolated from a small sample size and we are fortunate that it does not appear to have been accurate,” she told a press conference in Lahore. “People were panicking needlessly [yesterday], as that data is just an estimate. It does not reflect the reality,” she claimed.
She said that the government had considered acting on the advice of the working group to impose a new lockdown, but then the Supreme Court had—on May 18, three days after the report was submitted—ordered all shopping malls and markets to be opened ahead of the Eidul Fitr festival.
“I think it was a great move by the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” she said, adding that it had allowed the province’s economy some breathing space to recover.
Dismissing allegations that the government had tried to bury the findings of the report, she claimed the health department strived to be transparent in all its dealings. “This was just an internal report,” she added.
According to the report, a working group consisting of a consortium of epidemiologists, public health specialists, applied economists, statisticians and public policy specialists conducted a smart sampling exercise and found that all residential areas and workplaces in Lahore had cases of the coronavirus. It said the “alarmingly similar transmission patterns” across the city refuted “the justification of zoning and smart lockdown” and advised the government to immediately enforce a 4-week strict lockdown to curb the virus spread.
Urging people to exercise caution, Rashid said that it was up to each individual to ensure they adopted preventative measures to avoid infection. “You have no idea who has COVID-19,” she said, referring to asymptomatic patients. “The more precautions you can take the better it is.”
She said the government was planning to launch, within this week, a “robust” public awareness campaign targeting the elderly to educate the citizenry about the need for preventative measures such as face masks in public places.
Despite admitting the danger posed by asymptomatic patients, Rashid on Monday told private broadcaster Geo News that Punjab would only be testing patients with symptoms of the coronavirus as “the virus tests are too expensive.” Curiously, Planning Minister Asad Umar responded to this by claiming Punjab had access to thousands of kits, adding that the government was “choosing” not to utilize them.
However, she later clarified, that if a person tested positive for the virus, the government would conduct tests for their entire family to ensure that the infections could be contained to a single household.
Economy is bad
Reiterating that the primary reason the country could not enforce any more lockdowns was because of the economy, Rashid said that the entire world was suffering. “Even international airlines have gone bankrupt. How can we keep providing rations to the people in this situation?” she said, echoing Prime Minister Imran Khan who had said on Monday that the government could not keep providing relief to the impoverished facing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. “All your lives are precious to us, but we can’t afford a lockdown,” she added.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Punjab climbed to 27,850 on Tuesday, with 540 deaths—the highest death toll of any territory in Pakistan—and 7,116 recoveries. There are currently 20,194 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, the majority in Lahore and Rawalpindi, according to Rashid.