The coronavirus trajectory in Pakistan has taken many by surprise. The weekly share of positive cases per test at 11 percent hit a 10-week low at the end of week-18 since 1,000 reported cases. The sharp fall in cases and the infection rate has been met with some usual skepticism, with many in opposition in center (and at the helms in a province) going as far as accusing the government of “lying and fudging with the numbers, while deliberately reducing the testing.”
Now, the intentions of those running the show are best left to the best judge. But the ground situation surely does not appear as grim as it was two, three, four, or even eight weeks ago. Whether the improvement is to be credited to the governments, people, or just plain good luck, can be left for the epidemiologists to shed more light on. But the fact that the numbers instill hope, should not be lost on anyone.
Yes, testing has come down. Criminally. That should never have happened. Only that Pakistan was nowhere near adequate testing and was never going to get there. This is despite having increased the capacity to nearly 75,000 tests per day. Not even one-third of the daily capacity is exhausted, which shows not many people are showing up. Pakistan’s testing policy hardly ever reached track and trace.
Not many people turning up for tests could be down to various factors, but the fact that the rate of infection has come down significantly at great speed, is clear indication that the spread has slowed down. Various international studies are also being cited showing how Pakistan has successfully managed to reduce the famous “R0” to a very commendable under 1.
Have various versions of “smart” lockdowns worked? Punjab and Islamabad adopted this strategy with more ownership, and the results seem encouraging. Punjab has brought down the infection rate to single digits, from as high as 22 percent a month ago. Sindh was openly not in favor of “smart” version of the lockdown and insisted on complete or no lockdown. But it half heartedly went for a weaker version of smart lockdown. The infection ratio in Sindh too has come down significantly. Hopefully, none of these numbers are “fabricated”.
The other side relating to hospitalization, patients needing ventilator support, and those losing the precious lives, also show hope. That is also where the idea that the governments are trying to hide the real numbers does not strike much – because sick people will eventually need hospitalization support. The fear of the system crumbling has subsided.
Now a big test lies ahead as Eid is fast approaching. Previous Eid and the relaxations leading to Eid led to very high infection numbers. Could it be different this time? Strict SOPs for animal sacrifice and the leadup seem very difficult. Pakistan should take hope from the numbers but should not celebrate yet. This Eid could be testing. Or is it that between last Eid and this, the virus has lost momentum, and most people may have contracted the virus already without every being tested? So far, Pakistan seems to be holding up rather well in the face of the pandemic.