In letter leaked to local media, the global body suggests doubling testing to 50,000/day from current capacity of 25,000
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the Punjab government implement a 2-week on, 2-week off “strict” lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a report by Geo News.
Addressed to Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid, the letter appreciates the Pakistan government’s efforts in fighting COVID-19, but warns that recent statistics suggest its current strategy is not paying off. It has recommended that the government adopt a two-week-on, two-week-off intermittent lockdown, as it offers the most chance of continuing economic activities while ensuring public health.
“After partial relaxation of the [lockdown] measures on May 1, 2020, then followed by complete relaxation on May 22, 2020, the rate of spread of COVID-19 increased,” it says, noting that new infections had climbed from around 1,000 per day during the lockdown to over 4,000 per day right now.
According to Geo News journalist Amin Hafeez, the WHO letter laments that standard operating procedures (SOPs) designed to curb the spread of the virus following an end to lockdown measures were not being properly enforced. “SOPs need to be strictly enforced to stem the spread of the virus,” read the letter.
WHO had earlier recommended that any government seeking to ease movement restrictions needed to fulfill the following six conditions:
- No unchecked disease transmission;
- A health system that can “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”;
- Minimized hot-spot risks in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes
- Implementation of preventative measures in schools, workplaces and other essential places
- A “managed” approach to the risk of importing new cases
- Public awareness among communities to live under a “new normal” of coronavirus
In its letter, WHO notes that Pakistan is not meeting “any of the prerequisite conditions for opening the lockdown.” It says that Pakistan continues to exhibit a high positivity rate of 24 percent (above the required level of 5 percent), while the surveillance system to trace contacts is “weak.”
It also noted that the public was unwilling to adapt to change its behavior and adopt SOPs. “Pakistan has been ranked among the top 10 countries around the globe in reporting the highest number of new cases,” it warned, adding that the country needed to take strategic decisions to either tighten or implement public health measures that ensure economic prosperity, human rights, and food security.
Urging the government to expand its testing capacity to around 50,000 tests/day, it said that with its high positivity rate, Pakistan was potentially missing out on thousands of cases.
“These difficult decisions will require the need to balance response directly to COVID-19, which includes intermittent lockdowns of targeted areas (district, town, section of the city or village) as a first option and should be dealt on priority basis, while simultaneously engaging in strategic planning and coordinated action to maintain essential health service delivery, mitigating the risk of system collapse.”
Pakistan has thus far reported 108,317 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,172 deaths and 35,018 recoveries. There are currently 71,127 active cases of the novel coronavirus in the country.