The officialdom has started to ease COVID-19 restrictions giving rise to fears of a third wave of the virus that is observed to be visible in many areas of the country. The rate of daily cases are not coming down from 1,000, a veritable signal that the intensity of the virus has not abated. Many health experts resent the priority accorded by the government to financial concerns rather than healthcare concerns. They insist that lifting of restrictions was only advisable once 70 per cent of the population was vaccinated.
It was reported that the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) relaxed most of the restrictions on commercial activities, schools, offices and other workplaces, allowing them to function at full strength. Under the directives, time limit on commercial activities has been lifted and condition of 50 per cent attendance at workplaces removed. Schools have been asked to function five days a week with full strength. Permission to hold indoor wedding ceremonies and opening of cinemas and shrines has been granted with effect from 15 March.
The decision to allow indoor dining will depend on the outcome of the review meeting to be held on 10 March. The NCOC also allowed increase in number of spectators attending Pakistan Super League (PSL) matches from 20 per cent to 50 per cent and permitted full attendance during play-offs with stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs). The Election Commission of Pakistan has also been allowed to hold local bodies and cantonment board elections by the end of May or early June. On the other hand doctors want the government to review decisions, with improved focus on vaccination. They emphasise that the people hardly follow the SOPs and even laugh at those wearing face masks. The results of relaxing restrictions in September last year brought in 100 to 200 daily cases and within a month the government had to declare a second wave of coronavirus.
The situation is quite complicated as the response to vaccination drive in Pakistan was very slow. The healthcare experts have decried the fact that the vaccination drive in the country has not been undertaken on professional basis. They castigate the fact that actors have been engaged for vaccination campaign rather than renowned doctors completely upending the entire effort. They also protest that currently, a bombardment of advertisements is seen during PSL matches but there is not a single ad on vaccination during matches. Also, data of healthcare workers, who have been vaccinated so far, is not being shared.
It is deeply resented that there was a very slow response by the HCWs, especially nurses that is simply a recipe for disaster. The healthcare sector is worried that the government was looking at the issue with mere focus on country’s economic growth rather than public health. The situation is badly neglected giving rise to the possibility of a third wave practically giving another opportunity to the virus to bounce back. The governmental health machinery appears to be unmindful of the fact that now there are more than one variants of virus in Pakistan and they are more infectious and transmissible. Though, luckily, they are as virulent as previous type but it is not a good decision to lift restrictions as cases are continuously fluctuating with sudden spikes in cases.
It was reported that a new variant of virus that had been initially found in the UK, Brazil and South Africa spread quickly to 92 countries including Pakistan. But instead of taking care of it Pakistani authorities have removed social distancing in schools and PSL matches by only declaring wearing of surgical masks mandatory. It was also mentioned that surgical mask is almost nothing as compared to size of virus, which can even pass through N-95 masks.
Pakistan has been comparatively less affected by the pandemic as the first case of it was reported in February 2020 and by June the number of daily cases rose to 6,000. With strict restrictions in place, cases started decreasing but shortly afterwards, the government removed the restrictions with the result that cases surged again in October so much that the authorities had to declare it a second wave of virus and to impose the restrictions. However, the NCOC again lifted the restrictions on 24 February 2021 only weeks after number of active cases started dropping. Interestingly, the federal minister for planning, development had also warned of a third wave of virus if the masses did not strictly adhere to the SOPs yet despite this open realisation the restrictions have been relaxed. Many skeptics regard the latest government’s decision to relax restrictions as highly irresponsible. The cases of infections are gradually increasing with the infection percentages on the rise. The situation is fast becoming dangerous and it has become imperative to review the decision to relax restrictions. TW