Pakistan is testing less than 5 people per 1000. This is slightly better than Sub-Sahara Africa, at par with South Asia and Latin America, and significantly lower than Europe, North America, Oceana and Far East.
Want to know, which are the countries and regions with the highest speed of spread, measured by tests conducted per confirmed case, or alternatively, by share of positive cases as total tests? With a few exceptions, most countries that have not tested enough, find themselves in this unwanted territory. Pakistan’s favorite time pass, comparison with India, does it no good on most testing measures either.
Consider this. Only Mexico and Brazil have a worse ratio than Pakistan’s 5.1 (on last 7-day rolling average basis), for countries with more cases than Pakistan. Bangladesh is fast catching up. India’s share of positive cases is still double that of Pakistan’s – but it is fast worsening. Not less than a couple of weeks ago, India was having a confirmed positive case for 25 tests – that number has reduced to half. Pakistan’s spread has by and large remained the same post Eid.
The speed of spread in India coincides with the timing of lockdown uplifting. India had a longer lockdown and lifted it up much later than Pakistan. Two weeks post lockdown uplift, the virus is spreading faster by the day. Just as it happened with Pakistan right before and around Eid. There is ample research and evidence available now, that a lockdown is only good if it coincides with adequate testing (unless of course you are a country that can afford to shut the economy perpetually).
How much is adequate when it comes to testing. That definition has kept evolving as well. The WHO now puts it around 30-40 people per thousand, for it to be termed adequate. And then it will have to be followed with contract tracing, to limit the spread. Pakistan’s testing policy so far has stayed around symptomatic cases, with very limited capacity to contract trace.
Yes, the capacity to test has been ramped up significantly. But still keeps Pakistan in unwanted company. Size matters. For all 14 countries with a population of over 100 million, only USA and Russia have tested adequately. Others have fallen miserably short – with a combined average of 3 tests per 1000 population – versus 100 tests per 1000 population for USA and Russia.
In a select few cases, countries had reacted very proactively and did not need to test aggressively to curb the spread, such as Japan. But for every other emerging country with over 100 million population, testing and then following it up with contact tracing has been a huge problem.
Whether it is the negligence, incompetence, financial muscle, lack of public cooperation – or a combination of all of these factors – all the countries that now are the global or regional epicenters, have by and large similar economic muscle. Most of them fall in the emerging markets category.
Plot the testing per 1000 number against the GDP per capita – and you could simply replace one map for another. Countries with lesser to spend, where people have much more to worry about, have fared poorly at adequate testing. These are big countries – representing half the world’s population. Should there be an effort by the developed world to (financially) help the emerging market countries in testing? Remember, the pandemic won’t be over until the spread is stopped across the globe. There is no such thing as a Covid-free region, when the other half of the world has cases rising like wildfire.