Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
With the recent horrific resurgence of COVID-19, Pakistan is racing against time to wrestle with the ever increasing virus cases throughout the country as the indecent rapidity with which the fatal virus is expanding its tentacles has left most of the hospitals without oxygen kits and ventilators thus placing the sufferers at the mercy of the fatal disease that continues to claim precious human lives unimpeded.
The total number of cases reported in Pakistan so far has crossed 0.8 million with a death toll of 18,000. The number of people testing positive has alarmingly risen to more than 10% from 3% a couple of weeks ago making an ominous suggestion that the actual number of active cases is likely to be much higher than the reported cases. If it continues at a present pace in the days and weeks to come, the country may face a similar situation as our close neighbour virus-ravaged India is facing. Given the limited availability of vaccines, we have so far vaccinated around two million people mostly frontline health workers and the elderly falling in the age bracket beyond 60 years out of a total population of more than two hundred million people.
If we continue with the present rate of vaccination, it may take more than five years to vaccinate the entire population. This dreary health scenario leaves us with only one option i.e. strict adherence to the laid down SOPs if we want to come out of the crisis successfully. But the way the public is seen behaving, it may leave the government with no option but to go for a complete lockdown with disastrous economic consequences and nightmarish outcome. One needs to realize that it’s a hard time in our nation’s history as we face the mortal viral disease.
In the prevailing dismal health scenario, there is a dire need to take the pandemic seriously, chalk out well-orchestrated virus containment plan at district level, get the public on board by launching a planned awareness campaign regarding the fatalities of the disease, arrange online motivation lectures and use the social media to convince the public to follow the health protocols in letter and spirit, set up widespread testing and isolation centres at tehsil level and set clearly-defined objectives that are needed to be achieved. These are some of the measures that can galvanize the public into practicing necessary precautionary measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent health surveys have shown that there has been an explosive growth in the spread of the pandemic during the past few weeks thus ringing an alarm bell. Scores of epidemiological studies conducted on the virus, research on the active cases and pattern of the pandemic show that nearly 80% of the infection is caused by 10 to 20% virus carriers. In dealing with the outbreak, there is a need to quickly find out such infected persons, trace close contacts and place them under quarantine, promote basic hygiene measures such as frequent hand washing, use of sanitizer, wearing of face-mask, observance of proper social distancing, avoiding crowded places, curtailing market visits besides cancelling public gathering, closing public parks, marriage halls and shopping malls on specified days, arrange online classes instead of on campus classes, 50% attendance in offices and adopt other strategies suited to the local context. In this way, it may be possible to contain the spread of virus without resorting to complete or even partial lockdown which is not advisable given the country’s fragile economic conditions.
It is important to protect the public from naked exposure to the infection. All residents in the potential risk areas must be made to stay at home. While doing so, force may be applied to ensure compliance if need be. Given the temperament our people have and the kind of discipline they are exhibiting, use of force could be the only option though an undesirable act. Moreover, local health workers and volunteers, after the specific training, may be allowed to participate in screening the suspected cases and help in proper quarantine measures.
The new variant of COVID-19 called a British variant of the virus that has emerged from the United Kingdom and is travelling fast to other countries seems to be more fatal. According to National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) overseeing the COVID-19, a British variant of the virus detected in Pakistan in April is likely flare-up infections. This relatively more contagious and deadlier variant seems to be a major cause for the sudden exponential increase in the spread of the disease. Besides, public disregard of the health protocols and SOPs has further compounded the situation. Although government is doing everything possible to contain the spread of the disease, it is well-nigh impossible to surmount the challenge without active support of the public. According to researchers and epidemiologists, one mutated version of coronavirus was detected in South-eastern England in September 2020. The variant quickly became the most common version of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases in December. It’s now the predominant variant of coronavirus that is travelling fast to other countries with its catastrophic impact. One of the main concerns about this variant of coronavirus remains that it could easily frustrate the treatment and prevention of the virus.
Health professionals are of the view that this new variant could give another round of mild or moderate attack to those who survived the original COVID-19. Having said that, an important question that boggles the mind and imagination of the already baffled public is: Will the COVID-19 vaccine work on the new variants? The answer according to health researchers is not too encouraging though not too discouraging at the same time. According to them, some immune responses driven by current vaccines could be less effective against some of the new strains. But it doesn’t mean that the vaccines will not offer protection. The antibodies developed in human body by these vaccines do offer immunity against the new variants though it may be at a slightly lesser scale.
When all is said and done, it’s very unfortunate to observe that we have failed to acquit ourselves well as a disciplined nation in time of adversity and have taken upon ourselves to defy the rules and regulations framed by the concerned authorities and flout the laid down SOPs framed for a specific purpose. We are told to march towards the right but we go towards the left, we are told to remain awake but we go to sleep, we are asked to run but we prefer to crawl, we are told to keep our eyes open, we keep them shut, and so on and so forth. A wilful defiance of authority has made an integral part of our lifestyle yet we expect to be treated with respect. The way public is seen behaving during the third wave of coronavirus, we are destined to meet our Waterloo if we fail to make amends for the wrongs we are doing and persist with treading the path of defiance. How sad it is that the government was forced to invoke article 245 of the constitution calling the army in aid of civil power just to make people follow corona SOPs. There is an intense need to take stock of our behaviour as a nation.
Making a bit departure from the topic, an interesting development has taken placed during the third wave of coronavirus which is rather unheard of in Indian history. The Hindus of India are requesting their Muslim compatriots to call their “Allah” to come to their rescue and lift the affliction they are presently suffering from. Though, on the face of it, it sounds off the wall that they are invoking “Allah”, the God of Muslims as per the belief of non-Muslims for help yet decline to embrace Islam. The reason is very simple. According to the Holy Quran, “only those people receive guidance whom Allah wills.”
Last but not the least, pathologists and laboratory technicians are our unsung heroes who conduct testing for the coronavirus but their services never receive due recognition. They are on the front line round the clock , making sure that all of the tests are conducted with accuracy and that the patients are receiving the appropriate diagnosis on time. Their behind-the-scenes services need to be showcased and acknowledge officially. This is necessary to serve as an inducement and to boost their morale. In this connection, there is a need to keep the medical laboratories duly equipped and functional as without properly equipped and well-maintained laboratories, pathologists and laboratory technicians can’t deliver.