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The third wave of Covid-19 in Pakistan has seen an alarming increase in positive coronavirus cases, with the most recent figures released by the NCOC showing a national positivity rate of around 10%. Reports from Islamabad and Punjab are also worrying. This week, the capital recorded the highest number of positive cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic, while Lahore has consistently reported more than 60% of the positive cases in Punjab. Prime Minister Imran Khan has also tested positive, a worrying development that underscores how rampant the virus is spreading. It is important for the government to send a strong and unambiguous message that Mr. Khan’s vaccination two days before his Covid-19 test does not in any way mean that the vaccine is not effective. In fact, as Minister Asad Umar clarified, it is certain that the Prime Minister was infected before being vaccinated, a very likely scenario given that Mr. Khan has been seen at events and meetings this past. week without covering his face. His positive test for Covid-19 will fuel vaccine skepticism, and it is imperative that the government make it clear when and how the vaccine goes into effect and that caution is still needed.

As cases climb rapidly, there is speculation that a national lockdown is being considered. Considering the spike in positivity, increasing hospital admissions, and multiple ICU patients, this may be inevitable. But it’s important to understand that it was preventable. The past few months have marked a shocking and reckless approach to the spread of the virus, as public gatherings and business activities across the country have been allowed to resume in full swing. Prevention protocols, particularly the wearing of a face mask, are being ignored even by some key government figures, a deeply disappointing reality given the speed at which the new Covid-19 strain is known to spread. How can authorities expect members of the public to be accountable and abide by SOPs if they are not themselves strict in complying with them? It’s time for officials to move beyond appeals and caution regarding Covid-19 prevention. They must apply a strict SOP mandate from which even senior officials are not exempt. At the same time, they must encourage people to get immunized and be transparent and accessible when it comes to sharing information about immunization data. The fear and anti-vaccination sentiment in the country is a reality that the government must strive to overcome with an effective communication strategy. Failure to do so will come at a huge cost.

Posted in Dawn on March 21, 2021

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