After a steady decrease in new Covid-19 cases, Pakistanis have once again abandoned SOPs. It seems due to our lack of discipline we are destined to repeat the situation that gave rise to the third wave of the novel Coronavirus.
Following the announcement on relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, the number of positive Covid-19 cases is slowly increasing again. The number of cases was continuing to drop until 28 June however with different changes to policy such as the normalization of inbound international air travel, withdrawal of the 50 percent work-from-home policy, and the two-day weekly ban on inter-provincial transport, the number of cases began to increase and doubled in just a week.
The positivity rate in Islamabad has actually gone from less than 1 percent to more than 3 percent in only 7 days.
Although vaccinations are a ray of hope in the battle against Covid-19, Pakistan’s vaccination rates are still comparatively low, with only about 5 percent of the population being vaccinated.
Vaccine availability may be an issue in Pakistan but the bigger problem we are facing is the fact there is extreme widespread vaccine hesitancy especially, in rural regions. There are many conspiracy theories spread about the Covid-19 vaccine which has made people question its credibility. The government needs to acknowledge how serious and dangerous the issue of vaccine skepticism is and attempt to address it with a stronger awareness campaign.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, has expressed his concern over the flouting of Covid SOPs, which are crucial in limiting the spread of this deadly virus.
He has said that this drop in precautionary behavior may lead to a fourth wave in the country as the compliance rate in regards to SOPs, which was at about 80 percent just a few weeks ago, has come down to a staggering 46 percent. Furthermore, Dr. Faisal Sultan has also reported that only 40 percent of the business and transport sector continue to follow the given guidelines. In hospitals, the compliance rate is 70 percent however ideally it should be closer to 100 percent. In the Industrial sector, the compliance rate is even worse, a mere 38 percent, and in mosques, it is about 41 percent so far.
Additionally, events such as the Pakistan Democratic Movement public meeting in Swat are another detriment to Pakistan’s survival during the Covid era. Thousands of individuals attended the rally which took place recently, with little to no attention given to SOPs. There are many such events fast approaching that will likely cause another surge in covid cases. An example of one of these is the ongoing Federal board exams that are being conducted in person (started 10th July). Although special guidelines have been made for students and teachers to adhere to so that the virus does not spread, it is likely it will.
The public needs to start following SOPs seriously because with Eid-ul-Azha fast approaching, Covid-19 has the ideal opportunity to strike Pakistan once again. The public has come out in the excitement of starting preparations for Eid-ul-Azha which is only two weeks away. People are going out and searching for sacrificial animals and going to city markets for Eid shopping. A large number of women can be seen in shopping malls for their perceived Eid essentials like shoes, dresses, and accessories. It seems every time Eid comes around, people believe that Covid-19 has dissipated and there is no threat at all when in fact it is very much still there.
Thankfully the National Command and Operation Centre has sent out a detailed list of Covid-19 safety protocols for all federating units which are to be strictly implemented. These include guidelines such as mandatory vaccination for all livestock sellers and for hand sanitizer and masks to be provided at the entry points of the market.
The public needs to realize that although vaccinations are being administered and that we are doing comparatively better than other nations, a fourth wave of Covid-19 is a threat we most likely will have to face. That means it is still essential to follow SOPs such as wearing masks when in public and practicing social distancing diligently.