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Not quite the catastrophe that the Eastern neighbors are facing, Pakistan’s third Covid wave finally seems to be waking the administration from the slumbers. The 7-day moving average positivity rate touched 10 percent, first time since mid-July 2020. The daily case toll is nearing the first peak, at less than half the positivity rate. Hopefully, the authorities won’t be waiting for the positivity rate anywhere close to the first peak, before acting – because the health system will not sustain that kind of pressure.

The government officials are on record saying the health system in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is nearing the tipping point. The situation there is already almost as bad as it was during the first peak. The national average positivity often provided a false sense of hopes, amongst the masses, and that is where complacency sets in.

If the government authorities are to be believed, Pakistan’s federating units put more meat in the healthcare system in terms of specialized beds, critical care units, oxygen supply and ventilators. The active cases are still 20 percent shy of the first peak, yet the increased facilities are nearing full capacity. If the government numbers are to be taken on face value, it tells that a significantly higher percentage of active cases requires hospitalization, oxygen support and ventilators.

The number of patients on ventilators has already reached the highest since the pandemic started – and the trend has persisted throughout the third wave. There must be no doubts that the ongoing wave will see more people needing medical support, and unfortunately more people losing the lives.

From what it appears, Pakistan’s healthcare system can ill-afford to face a situation worse than what it is today. Last year Ramadan and Eid gatherings led to the highest positivity rate in the two weeks that followed Eid. And mind you, the movement was still restricted to some extent, in terms of gatherings and commercial activities.

The two weeks leading to Eid, therefore become ever more critical. All provinces have adopted some variants of restricted movement, primarily through reduced timings for commercial activities. A nationwide complete lockdown is still nowhere in sight. The armed forces have been asked to help in enforcing the SOPs – but that would never be a substitute for a two-week lockdown.

This space is not an opponent or an advocate of a complete lockdown per se, but the learnings from how the virus works tell us that the spread is highly unlikely to slow down before getting worse. Here is hoping the last days of Ramadan, and Eid holidays are observed with the strictest possible enforcement of restrictions. Mind you, Pakistan’s healthcare system is on the brink.

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