Covid-19 is running riot in neighbouring India – which marked a harrowing milestone of 314,835 cases of the lethal infection in a single day on Thursday – and it appears to have raised the alarm in Pakistan. Concerned about avoiding a similar situation, Prime Minister Imran Khan has – in an address to the nation yesterday – asked the army to come out and assist police in making people comply with the SOPs meant to avoid contracting the deadly genome. Alongside that, new restrictions have also been announced to curb the Covid-infestation rate in the country that has gone as high as 10 per cent. So far this month, the novel virus has killed between 43 and 147 people in the country every day, besides adding more than 5,000 to the sick list daily.
No wonder hospitals across the country are feeling the heat. According to media reports, a total of 559 patients are in a critical condition and have been put on a ventilator. The situation is particularly bad in Punjab where the fast-spreading UK variant of the virus is rampaging through big cities and towns. About 88 per cent of the ventilators available in the hospitals of Gujranwala have been occupied. The figure stands at 85 for Multan and 82 for Lahore. As for Khyber-Paktunkhwa province, Mardan and Peshawar are producing worrying numbers. Hundred per cent ventilators in Mardan hospitals have been put to use. Besides, 74% oxygen beds in Peshawar are also engaged. The lethal UK variant has also made its way into Sindh, with provincial health minister Dr Azra Pechuho confirming the presence of UK variant in half the samples tested in the genomic studies in Karachi.
For the public though, it’s still business as usual. And the authorities look helpless. The way the public goes about normally, despite the media making clamorous calls for taking safety measures, speaks more of their contempt for the SOPs than their ignorance of the same. Roads and highways are jam-packed with public and private vehicles chockfull of people; bazars and shopping centres are overcrowded with shopping freaks; restaurants and cafes are packed to capacity reverberating with deafening chatters – all describing a public that cares a damn about a virus that has brought the whole world to a halt. Even a small, easy to handle personal protection item – the face mask – looks like excess baggage for the public in general. Men carry it in their pockets, and women in their purses. Motorists have it on their car’s dashboards. Majority of the people only wear it when told to do so by a policeman on the road or when they are required to fulfil the very condition for entering a bank or a shopping mall.
Where the government does need to go for a forced adherence to the SOPs by the public, it must also step up the vaccination drive in the country. It’s sad to note that just about 1.4 million people in the country have so far been vaccinated against the virus, with the vaccination rate per hundred people being an abysmally low of 0.36 which is much lower than even in the region. For comparison, Indian has so far vaccinated 9.39 per hundred people. The figure in case of Nepal is 5.38, Bangladesh 4.51 and Sri Lanka 4.32. An example worth emulating in the context is Bhutan which has provided Covid jabs to 62.12 persons per hundred. That 220 million-strong Pakistan has only secured 22 million doses of the vaccine, enough for half as many people, is a genuine cause for concern. Tightening restrictions and using armed forces for SOPs compliance are all good, but the government must devise a proper inoculation plan so as to avoid being discarded to some Covid-specific red or black list while the world gets back to normal.