Pakistan made it compulsory Wednesday for citizens to wear face masks in public places in an effort to contain a fresh coronavirus outbreak.
The government also announced the shutting of all parks and entertainment venues by 6 p.m. and markets, shopping centers, restaurants and banquet halls by 10 p.m. nationwide from Thursday.
Announcing the new preventive measures, the head of the country’s COVID-19 response, Asad Umar, said all provinces have been asked to ensure that people wear face masks and adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs), particularly in markets, shopping malls, public transport and restaurants.
NCOC today approved the use of anti gen testing, in addition to the PCR tests being carried out. This is part of strategy to increase the level of testing. The symptomatic cases will all still be administered PCR tests. The decision is in line with the guidelines issued by WHO
— Asad Umar (@Asad_Umar) October 28, 2020
He also said on Twitter that the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) has approved the use of antigen testing in addition to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests being carried out.
“This is part of a strategy to increase the level of testing. The symptomatic cases will all still be administered PCR tests. The decision is in line with the guidelines issued by the WHO,” he added.
Pakistan was one of the few countries where coronavirus cases significantly declined, prompting the government to ease a months-long lockdown in May. In September, the World Health Organization also praised Pakistan for handling the pandemic effectively.
However, the country has recorded a gradual increase in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks, largely in October, with the daily death toll jumping from single digits to double digits.
Warning citizens of a second wave of the pandemic, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged citizens to “strictly” follow the safety precautions at least for the next two months.
Pakistan on Wednesday reported 825 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, sparking fears of a second wave of the virus, according to the Health Ministry. The nationwide case count now stands at 330,200. Meanwhile, with 14 new deaths, total fatalities rose to 6,759. So far, 311,814 people have recovered while active cases in the country stand at 11,627.
On Tuesday, Dr. Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister on health, who effectively acts as the health minister, announced that Pakistan was facing a second wave of COVID-19 as people were not following the standard operating procedures.
“A few weeks ago, we were getting 400 to 500 cases per day, but now it has increased to 700 to 750 cases. Moreover, the mortality rate has also increased. Another ratio which is considered is percentage positivity, which remained less than 2%. But now it has reached close to 3%,” local daily Dawn quoted Sultan as saying.
India passes grim milestone
India on Thursday passed eight million coronavirus cases, with the world’s second-worst-hit country bracing for a possible second wave ahead of winter and a series of religious festivals. There have now been 8,040,203 cases and 120,527 deaths across the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the latest government figures. The United States has seen 9.1 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths.
India has one of the world’s lowest death rates and ministers have highlighted the slowing number of new infections in recent weeks. But authorities are preparing for a new surge after Diwali, the country’s most important religious festival on November 14. “All states need to be careful during the coming festive season. This caution must be exercised for the next three months at least,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a recent statement.
A stringent lockdown imposed in March has gradually been eased as the government seeks to reboot the economy after the loss of millions of jobs nationwide. But experts say this has helped spread Covid-19. New Delhi recorded 5,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic. Officials have warned that the capital could see more than 10,000 cases a day in the next wave.
Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told the Times of India newspaper that if cases coninued surging the country’s fragile healthcare system “will get really stressed.” Experts have said crowds gathering for Diwali and other festivals, colder temperatures and the annual winter pollution crisis could worsen the impact of coronavirus cases in Delh.
Authorities are also worried about the southern state of Kerala and West Bengal in the east which have seen worrying spikes in cases. Financial capital Mumbai, India’s worst-hit city with more than 250,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths, is currently adding about 2,000 cases a day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has warned the population in recent speeches that they are being “careless” in giving up social distancing and other precautions. While businesses and theatres have slowly started to reopen, schools and colleages remain shut in most cities and international flights are severely limited.
India only has air links with a small number of countries — including the United States, France, Germany and Britain — where they have made special arrangements. India’s domestic air market was the world’s fastest growing before the pandemic but is currently operating at less than 60 percent of the capacity of 12 months ago.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk