Pakistan’s planning minister warned Sunday that the number of coronavirus cases in the country could double by the end of June and peak at more than a million infections just a month later.
The warning from planning minister Asad Umar comes as many in the country continue to ignore guidance on social distancing, hygiene and other measures to tackle the disease.
Pakistan’s coronavirus peak to be at more than one million cases
Pakistan currently has confirmed nearly 140,000 cases of COVID-19, with the death toll approaching 2,700.
Authorities have ramped up testing but this nonetheless remains limited, so real numbers are thought to be higher.
Read more: Pakistan coronavirus cases pass 100,000 mark
“Expert estimates say the number of confirmed cases could go up to 300,000 by the end of June if we keep on flouting SOPs (standard operating procedures) and taking the problem lightly,” said Umar, who is helping coordinate the government’s coronavirus response.
“We fear the number of confirmed cases could go up further to 1.2 million by end of next month,” he told reporters in Islamabad.
After initially lagging infection rates in Western nations, Pakistan and other South Asian countries are experiencing a surge in cases.
Ease in lockdown leads to surge in coronavirus cases
Pakistan’s increase comes after people violated government restrictions and thronged mosques and markets — mostly without masks and gloves — during Ramadan and ahead of the Eid festival last month.
PM @ImranKhanPTI has announced the #COVID19 #pandemic will peak in #Pakistan at end of Jul/Aug.
Every country has imposed a lockdown to reach the peak and lower the graph. He needs to realize this number is not a "run rate" that the peak is a good thing https://t.co/f31nHtvN4Q
— Ahmer Jamil Khan (@AhmerJamilKhan) June 9, 2020
Since the start of Pakistan’s outbreak in March, Prime Minister Imran Khan opposed a nationwide lockdown of the sort seen elsewhere, arguing the impoverished country could not afford it.
Instead, Pakistan’s four provinces ordered a patchwork of closures, but even those restrictions have now been lifted.
The World Health Organization has told Pakistan it should implement “intermittent” lockdowns to counter a surge in coronavirus infections that has come as the country loosens restrictions, officials said. Pakistan’s lockdown has been lifted due to the government believing that this is what is most equitable for all strata of society.
“As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the pre-requisite conditions for opening the lockdown”, the WHO said in a letter confirmed by Pakistan officials on Tuesday.
Many people have not adopted behavioural changes such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, meaning “difficult” decisions will be required including “intermittent lockdowns” in targeted areas, the letter states.
Some 25 percent of tests in Pakistan come back positive for COVID-19, the WHO said, indicating high levels of infection in the general population.
The health body recommended an intermittent lockdown cycle of two weeks on, two weeks off.
The coronavirus cases spread through local transmission showed a dangerous upward trajectory in a recent report published by the World Health Organisation Pakistan chapter in May.
Government to impose smart lockdown?
Umar said hotspot areas such as Lahore are now subject to “smart” lockdowns in which authorities attempt to track coronavirus patients and limit who they come into contact with.
“The government has decided to go for smart lockdowns by tracking hotspots and then sealing them. This will start from Punjab province,” Umar said.
After the rapid increase of coronavirus cases in Lahore, the Punjab government is considering to re-impose a two-week lockdown in Lahore from Monday, GVS learned through reliable sources on Friday. In this context, the final approval would be given by Prime Minister Imran Khan after consultation with the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
Medicines, grocery and other shops of important commodities would remain open during the two-week lockdown. Sources further added that the provincial government has also decided to ensure strict implementation of the SOPs.
Authorities in Islamabad already locked down one neighbourhood after tracking 200 confirmed coronavirus cases in just one day on Friday.
Impact of coronavirus on Pakistan’s healthcare system
Government officials claim the situation is “under control,” but health authorities believe the already stretched health system is unable to handle the lurking influx of COVID-19 patients.
Hospitals across Pakistan say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning COVID-19 patients away.
“Most of the hospital beds have already taken by patients, limiting our ability to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases, mainly in the big cities,” Dr Faiyaz Alam, an office-bearer of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), a nationwide body of medical professionals said.
Pakistan’s ruling party Friday vowed to double healthcare spending as it unveiled a new budget which dramatically slashed other expenditure with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy.
Pakistan’s economy was already on life support before officials began shuttering large segments of the economy in March as an array of lockdown measures were rolled out in effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
The country has since called for debt forgiveness from international donors and the IMF as tax revenues cratered, inflation soared, the currency was devalued, and fiscal deficits widened.
This is all before the coronavirus peak has even been reached in Pakistan, so it is very likely that the situation will go from bad to worse.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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