Planning minister tells press conference testing for coronavirus will be expanded to 150,000/day in four-to-six weeks
Pakistan is set to cross 1 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus by end-July if the public continues to be apathetic in adopting government-issued standard operating procedures (SOPs), Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar warned on Sunday.
Addressing a press conference at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) in Islamabad, he said that at current rates of infection, cases were likely to soar past 300,000 by the end of this month if citizens continued violating SOPs such as the use of face masks in public. “Studies suggest the virus’ spread can be decreased by 50 percent just by covering the mouth,” he said, adding that social distancing was equally essential to combat the disease.
Rejecting multiple recommendations—including by the World Health Organization—of a complete lockdown to slow down the spread, the minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had already appealed to the masses to adopt precautionary measures. “A number of times same message has been given from the platform of NCOC,” he said.
Umar reiterated that it was not possible for authorities to enforce complete lockdown across the country, adding this was why the government had decided to implement a policy of tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ) and enforce “smart lockdowns” at viral hotspots.
Reiterating claims that he—and many other government ministers—has been voicing since the government eased lockdowns more than a month ago, Umar said that if the situation became untenable, the government would have no choice but to impose “targeted lockdowns” in areas reporting the most number of coronavirus cases. These warnings have seldom been followed by any action so it is unlikely they will have much impact on the public at this stage.
“About 500 beds will be added in Sindh and Punjab, and 400 oxygen beds in Khyber-Pakhtunkhuwa to help them in the fight against the virus,” he said, adding that currently more than 2,000 people across the country were in critical care requiring oxygen treatment. “About 2,150 oxygen beds would be provided to the provinces by the end of next month,” he said.
Referring to testing capacity for COVID-19 in the country, the minister said that 30,000 tests were being conducted daily basis right now, noting this was a marked increase from the 500/day that were being tested in March. “In next four to six weeks, the testing capacity is expected to increase to 150,000/day,” he added.
Pakistan on Monday recorded 5,248 new coronavirus infections, raising its confirmed cases to 144,478. In the past 24 hours, deaths due to COVID-19 increased by 97 to 2,729 against 53,721 total recoveries. There are currently 88,028 active cases in the country.