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‘Threat of Coronavirus Not Over’

by Newsweek Pakistan

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Pakistan’s planning minister urges public to continue practicing social distancing measures or infections could resurge

The threat from the novel coronavirus is not yet over and the “real heroes” among Pakistan’s public must continue adopting preventative measures to ensure this “victory” against the disease is not transformed into a defeat, Planning Minister Asad Umar said on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference from Islamabad, Umar said it was unfortunate that the public appeared to have become complacent in the past two or three days. “If we don’t stop flouting SOPs and social distancing guidelines, then the reduction in infections—that was earned through months of hard work—can be reversed,” he warned.

The minister said that chief secretaries have been directed to ensure that the infection rate does not increase, adding that while the government would enforce its measures, the most important aspect was the public’s cooperation.

According to the information provided by Umar, 10,664 people are currently involved in contact tracing of COVID patients across Pakistan. He said that of the 2.1 million tests conducted thus far, nearly half had been administered to contacts of patients, adding that there had been a positivity ratio of 10.5 percent. “This means more than 100,000 of the confirmed cases in the country were found through contact tracing,” he said, adding this had helped to reduce the spread of the virus by isolating these patients at an early stage of their infection.

The planning minister said the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which he chairs, was now focusing on improving contact tracing in all provinces. “Teams are visiting all the provinces and training local staff now,” he said, adding that Pakistan was now tracing 10.8 contacts of every individual COVID patient. “Our contact tracing level is now at the same level as South Korea,” he said.

Umar said that the country had conducted more than 2,350 “smart lockdowns” in viral hotspots nationwide, adding that the next step was to proceed to “micro smart lockdowns” that would specifically target neighborhoods or buildings with incidences of the virus.

The federal minister said that while the government had undertaken all these steps to curb the spread of COVID-19, the most important reason for the decline in daily infections was the public. “Whatever steps were taken by the state and the government would not have proven effective if the public had not cooperated,” he said. “While some people did not cooperate, a large part of society helped the government and took precautions. I would also like to thank the media for informing the public about the preventative measures needed [to curb the coronavirus],” he added.

Umar stressed he was reiterating this information because the public and government had worked together, adding if this unity ended, the situation could spiral. “Look at our neighboring nations,” he said, pointing specifically to Bangladesh, India and Iran. “Our positivity ratio is currently around 3; Iran has 9; and India around 9.8,” he said, adding even in deaths, Pakistan had been very lucky while neighboring states had suffered massive losses.

Umar said the country could not afford to go back to lockdowns, noting that there had been a 40 percent reduction in exports during the pandemic. “This means millions of jobs and livelihoods,” he said. “These are people who are daily wagers; white collar workers with few savings,” he said, adding they could not afford to sustain living off savings. “Without these exports, we would not have the funding for development projects like the Diamer-Bhasha Dam,” he said, stressing that the economy needed to continue functioning.

“For God’s sake, please wear masks,” concluded Umar, saying half our population was comprised of women who mostly covered their heads and could use the same cloth to cover their mouths without requiring masks. “Please keep some distance from others in public places,” he added.

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