Thursday, October 29, 2020

Islamabad to reimpose smart lockdown as virus cases increase

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Four weeks after regular activities resumed in the federal capital, the local administration on Saturday decided to reimpose a ‘mini smart lockdown’ in various areas after an increase in COVID-19 cases was reported in the city. The order was issued by the National Health Services (NHS) ministry under whi­ch a number of streets wou­ld be sealed.

The order stated that teams of the District Health Office (DHO) had carried out surveillance in different sectors and observed that coronavirus cases were rising in streets 38, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and Sawan Road in G-10/4. A similar trend was seen in streets 25 and 29 in I-8/2 and streets 85 and 89 in G-9/4, the order said, adding that the DHO teams were conducting sampling in these areas so that residents could be quarantined to avoid further transmission of the virus.

As a result, a “mini smart lockdown” was reimposed yesterday in various parts of Islamabad after the Pakistani capital reported an increase in the number of fresh Covid-19 cases.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat claimed that due to the prevailing situation, authorities were imposing a mini smart lockdown in residential compounds and streets where infections were increasing. He said the step was being taken to prevent the spread of the virus after surveillance revealed that some streets in G-9, G-10 and I-8 were becoming hotspots.

Shafqaat said since September 14, Islamabad’s local administration had sealed 19 educational institutions after their staff and students tested positive for the virus. He further added that 173 business centres were inspected on Saturday out of which 32 restaurants and hotels, 47 shops and a workshop were sealed for violating Covid-19 guidelines.

Warnings were also issued to 17 wedding halls that were found ignoring health protocols, Shafqaat told Dawn news, adding that action would begin against violators from Monday onwards. In the last 24 hours alone, Islamabad reported 88 new coronavirus cases. As of Sunday, Pakistan’s total caseload has increased to 318,543, while the death toll stood at 6,564.

WHO says Pakistan should reimpose lockdown to curb coronavirus

In early July, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that Pakistani authorities reimpose a strict, intermittent lockdown targeting localities with high coronavirus spread, as cases in the South Asian country increase exponentially since most restrictions were lifted in the last month.

In a letter sent to the provincial governments, WHO Pakistan chief Palitha Mahipala said the country did not meet any of the organisation’s six technical criteria for easing a lockdown. “As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the prerequisite conditions for opening the lock down,” stated the letter.

Pakistan’s government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had imposed lockdown restrictions of varying strictness in different provinces, but lifted most measures in late May, ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. The lifting of restrictions ushered in a skyrocketing of reported coronavirus cases, with daily infections rising from about 1,700 per day before the relaxation to 5,385 new cases on June 9, a single-day record.

So far, five of the nine days in June have posted single-day case increase records. In its letter, the WHO said Pakistan’s rate of coronavirus-positive patients was too high (24 percent), indicating that not enough testing was being done.

Read More: Virus lockdown returns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir

The global body recommended that Pakistan ramp up daily testing to more than 50,000 per day. Current testing capacity is about half that number, with 23,799 patients tested for the coronavirus countrywide, according to government data. The WHO also said the country’s surveillance system to identify, test, isolate, medical care and contact tracing was “weak”.

“There is limited capacity to provide critical care [only 751 ventilators are allocated for COVID-19] and the population is not ready to adapt to change behaviour,” Mahipala wrote.

Lockdowns are not the solution, says Khan  

Prime Minister Khan has long resisted re-imposing any lockdown measures, ruling out the possibility in remarks made last month.

“Although lockdown restrictions slow down the spread of the virus, we must also realise that Pakistan is a poor country and that we had no choice but to reopen the country,” he said in a televised address to the nation on Monday. “The entire world has understood that lockdowns aren’t a solution.”

The WHO’s letter included modelling of projected cases based on various forms of lockdown. Imposing a two-weeks-on and two-weeks-off cycle of restrictions would bring Pakistan’s estimated case peak down to about 400,000 cases, they had predicted.

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