Provincial health minister reiterates warnings of impending third wave of pandemic in Pakistan
New cases of the novel coronavirus being reported from Lahore, Jhelum, Okara and Gujrat are largely of the variant that was first identified in the U.K., Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid announced on Thursday, as she urged the public to continue adopting preventative measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The government has imported gene-sequencing equipment from China to determine the types of coronavirus that are spreading in Pakistan, she told media in Lahore, adding that this would help the government determine its response. While 70 percent of the total cases reported in Punjab since April appear to be of the original variant that originated in Wuhan, the health minister stressed that the four cities identified were reporting the “deadlier” U.K. variant.
“The infection rate is increasing alarmingly in Punjab,” she warned. “Gujranwala city has reported the highest positivity rate of the virus at 9 percent; Lahore and Multan are at 8 percent; Faisalabad at 6 percent; and Rawalpindi at 4 percent,” she said, adding that the government had imposed smart lockdown in 41 areas, restricting the movement of around 4,500 people. Similarly, she said 4,331 areas had been placed under micro-smart lockdowns.
The health minister warned that it appeared Pakistan was at the onset of a third wave of COVID-19, adding that the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) had decided to re-impose restrictions set aside earlier in a bid to stem the alarming increase in the country’s positivity ratio. A day earlier, the NCOC had announced two-week spring vacations in seven districts of Punjab to prevent the virus from spreading in educational institutions. It had also withdrawn a notification allowing indoor dining, and wedding receptions from March 15, and restricted the operational hours of commercial activities.
She said that currently 30 percent of ventilators were occupied by coronavirus patients in Punjab, and urged the public to practice social distancing and full mask compliance to ensure the healthcare infrastructure did not get overwhelmed.
While lamenting that the public had stopped following preventative measures in recent weeks, Dr. Rashid admitted that part of the problem had been the government announcing an end to restrictions after witnessing a decrease in new cases of the novel coronavirus. “The NCOC believed we had overcome the second wave and could now return to normal,” she said, adding that the pandemic could not be declared to be “over” until a sufficient percentage of the country’s population had been vaccinated.
To a question, the health minister said that the government could increase the number of micro and smart lockdowns if the situation continued to worsen. She also suggested the government might move to ban the opposition’s planned long march on Islamabad, scheduled to begin on March 26.
“The government is bound to impose bans keeping in view this alarming situation. Those who are talking about long march should realize that we are all first and foremost Pakistanis,” she said. “Opposition should give priority to the health of the nation before their long march call. Food and inflation are challenges being faced throughout the world. We request the opposition not to carry out any long or short march due to the severity of coronavirus pandemic,” she added.
To another question, she stressed that there were no side effects of the coronavirus vaccine and urged people over 60 to register for it and get inoculated.
Updating the media on Punjab’s vaccination progress, Primary and Secondary Healthcare Secretary Muhammad Usman said that over 96,000 frontline healthcare workers had already been inoculated. Additionally, he said, 4,219 people aged over 60 years had been vaccinated in the past 24 hours.