The Republic of Philippines has been told by a consultancy firm to look toward and adopt Pakistan’s successful strategies in fighting the coronavirus. That’s a rave review. And successfully fight the country evidently has—just look at data.
In fact, life is perceptibly going back to normal across Pakistan as Covid-19 cases demonstrate an extraordinary drop, moving toward a flattening of the curve, that sceptics did not see coming quite so abruptly. It looks like the country reached its peak in mid-June recording nearly 7000 cases in one day after which cases started to ebb. Two months later-now- average cases between 4th and 6th of August stand at 611. After a collective sign of relief, let’s pause.
Granted, as earlier argued, two prominent measures: positivity rate and tests per confirmed cases are both within the WHO-approved benchmarks indicating adequate testing. Though there are knowledge gaps into just how the country has managed to control the spread, a number of reasons can be associated to the decline in Pakistan—from localized lockdown strategy to tracing and tracking to folks practicing social distancing (Read more: “Beating Covid curiosity”, July 30, 2020). Some are now going as far as to say that Pakistan has successfully achieved herd immunity (more on that later).
But even as transport and travel resumes, office and factories call their employees back to work, and government mulls over reopening schools and educational institutes (expected date: Sep 15), it would be imprudent to completely abandon all restrain. People need to continue adopting covid-safe practices such as wearing masks and washing hands while maintaining physical distance and the government must continue testing whilst creating reliable scenario-based protocols for the next few months. Why?
Because it can come back. As French Prime Minister recently said: “The virus is not on vacation, and neither are we”. In fact, scientists from France have warned of a second wave of the coronavirus, much like the fear being voiced across the world. The expectation in the country is that a second wave would hit sometime in Autumn and Winter as daily cases in the country have started to climb back up. To tackle that, experts have come up with four scenarios that could play out and the protocols that would be initiated given each scenario.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also urged governments to continue testing, contact tracing and ensuring the masses are maintaining physical distance while also wearing masks, because, as argued by them, there is never going to be a “silver bullet” when it came to this virus. That many countries are rushing to develop vaccines and treatments for the virus is a positive development but until such a time when this vaccine is widely and cheaply accessible across the world, the reins of caution must not be relinquished.
There are also questions on herd immunity itself and whether achieving it means the virus can be eradicated (read more: “Covid cure”, July 23, 2020). The only sure-fire way to protect the country is for the government to be circumspect about relaxing restrictions—preferably, do it in phases—and have strict and strong contingency plans in place if cases begin to climb up. The masses need to be cautioned to continue practicing social distancing despite lockdown relaxations.
The most important step however is to not stop testing. If testing drops too low, there will be no way of knowing the growth of the virus and its spread and subsequently no way of mitigating it. The triumph of any form of lockdown strategy is contingent on the effectiveness and extent of testing without which the country would be thrust into a blind spot. If predictions are correct, September may come with a twist.