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KARACHI: Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has observed gaps in the public behaviour and government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and reiterated the need to focus on health sector priorities to tackle threats posed by the outbreaks and pandemics.

Despite the decrease in the number of COVID-19 positive and death rates since the Fourth Wave, Pakistan’s healthcare system is poised to undergo significant stress due to the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ and the simultaneous outbreak of the Dengue epidemic. At the time of this release, two positive cases have been reported in Karachi and Islamabad, while 12 new suspected cases have been reported from Balochistan.

The system has remained under the additional burden of the reported 48,906 infections with 183 deaths between January and September 2021 from the Dengue outbreak. The government is urged to adopt a comprehensive and proactive response to maintain control and safeguard the population against the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

FAFEN collected data from 64 districts across four provinces of Pakistan to generate a monitoring report on the COVID-19 Governance for a period between October 1 and December 15, 2021. The data is based on the interviews with key stakeholders as well as direct observations conducted by independent observers deployed in the districts.

The monitoring report, whilst recognizing the strides made in the vaccine uptake process, states that a significant proportion of the total population is yet to be inoculated and still requires utmost attention as the only way to prevent and secure the population from falling prey to the Omicron or any other new variant. The report underscores the need for extending the vaccination process to far-flung areas of the country having no access to the vaccination facilities to ensure inclusivity of the process.

The report highlights challenges in the vaccination process. The misinformation and rumors reported about the efficacy of the vaccine circulating among some healthcare workers and the general population is slowing down the vaccination process. The government needs to proactively expand the outreach of its awareness campaign to counter the misinformation and rumor to educate the general public and healthcare workers regarding the efficacy and importance of getting vaccinated.

The monitoring report also reflects the declining and worrisome trends of compliance with SOPs at public spaces and offices. Field monitoring of the public spaces shows that the majority of people were not complying with the observation of COVID-19 SOPs. While public information is more widely displayed, compliance among the public remains low. Respondents in only 18% of the districts shared that the majority of people in their areas are taking the COVID-19 threat seriously.

The report recognizes the government’s pro-active approach after the discovery of the Omicron variant. On November 29, 2021, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan and Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar held a joint press conference and appealed to the citizens to complete their vaccination doses and announced preventive measures, including curbs on travel from the countries affected by the new variant.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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