WSJ reports ‘dramatic decline’ in Pakistan coronavirus cases
NEW YORK: A leading US newspaper reported on Sunday that Pakistan had “radically turned the tide” of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with the South Asian nation seeing “steep decline” in COVID-19 cases and deaths – all two down over 80% from their highs.
“Large hospitals are reporting beds are opening up in previously overflowing coronavirus wards, even in Pakistan’s largest and hardest-hit city, Karachi,” the Wall Street Journal said in a report from Islamabad. “The number of patients on ventilators has halved over the past month,” he adds.
“All of this is happening as Pakistan’s neighbors to the east and west – India and Iran – are still reporting infection rates steadily rising,” the Journal said.
Even more surprising, the report added, was how progress in Pakistan – where the coronavirus spread uncontrollably about two months ago – came after Prime Minister Imran Khan resisted the Organization’s advice. World Health Organization (WHO), declaring in May that the lockdowns are too. costly for the poor and reopening the economy.
“We have charted the difficult path between a strict lockdown and a full opening,” said Dr Faisal Sultan, an infectious disease doctor brought in by Prime Minister Imran Khan as an adviser on COVID-19.
Pakistan’s success report comes when even the United States – a superpower with enormous resources at its disposal – is fighting to control the pandemic, with 4.7 million cases and 157,000 deaths.
PM Imran started wearing a mask in public
Pakistani health officials have not declared a victory, according to the report, adding that they fear progress may be reversed, especially with the current celebration of Eid-ul-Azha and the upcoming Muharram, which traditionally attract public gatherings across the country.
Relatively low testing levels in Pakistan have also raised questions about the magnitude of the drop, the Journal noted, but citing medical experts, saying the recovery trend was clear. Tellingly, the proportion of tests coming back positive has more than halved, he said, citing official figures.
Pakistan locked down its economy in March, at the start of its epidemic, which prevented the virus from spreading widely while people stayed at home, the WSJ said. However, after the restrictions were lifted in May, many Pakistanis celebrated the end of the fasting month of Ramazan with shopping sprees and family visits, sparking a wave of infections.
The rapid spread has prompted people to change their behavior, with more wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing, Dr Sultan said. Preventive messages have increased from government and public service campaigns.
The prime minister has also started wearing a mask in public, the report said.
“ Skeptical at first ”
The government switched to a strategy of targeted foreclosure of local areas where a cluster of cases had arisen, sometimes on a single street. Residential data and experience that health officials have gained over the past few years from a massive polio vaccination campaign have been used to identify hot spots.
Schools, wedding venues and restaurants remained closed, he said, adding that long-distance travel was still limited.
These days, Dr Faisal Mahmood, a professor at the Aga Khan University Teaching Hospital in Karachi, reportedly said he sees more people in his clinic who have problems recovering from COVID-19 than those currently. infected.
“The drop is real, although I was initially skeptical,” Dr Mahmood said.
From a peak of nearly 7,000 new cases of infection per day in June, 553 new cases have been reported in the past 24 hours, according to the National Command and Operation Center, the COVID-19 nerve center of the country. country. Pakistan recorded its lowest number of deaths in four months, with six people succumbing to the virus on Saturday.
“ Not sure yet ” of the cause
So far, less than 6,000 people have died, with 278,000 cases of infection recorded. Brazil, which Pakistan was initially compared with for peak infections, is roughly the same size as Pakistan. But the Latin American country has reported more than 92,000 deaths and 2.7 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, a United States-based research institution.
At the height of Pakistan in mid-June, major hospitals in major cities said they were overwhelmed. The highest number of patients who died in one day was 153 on June 20.
“The decline in Pakistan is promising,” Anna Vassall, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in the dispatch. “But we are not yet certain of the cause or its duration. The spread of COVID-19 is driven by social behavior and it is difficult to measure how this has changed.”
The modeling had predicted that countries like Pakistan would broadly follow the coronavirus trends seen in the West, producing grim predictions, the report said. A simulation from Imperial College London produced a worst-case scenario of 30,000 deaths per day in early August.
But health experts say Pakistan has unique characteristics that have likely been helpful in fighting the virus. In particular, they say, the young population and conservative, male-dominated Muslim society have limited exposure to the virus.
No homes for the elderly, women tend not to go out to work
Only 4% of Pakistan’s population is over 65 – compared to 16% in the United States and 23% in Italy, according to United Nations data. The average age in Pakistan is 22, more than ten years younger than Brazil and 25 years younger than Italy, also noting that there are no bars and nightclubs.
There are also no institutionalized homes for the elderly, sites of deadly epidemics elsewhere. Women tend not to leave their homes to work, which means that the workforce is overwhelmingly made up of men who are mostly young, it was pointed out.
Dr Adnan Khan, a doctor who is knowledge director at consultancy firm Research and Development Solutions, reportedly said that social circles in any country are limited to family, friends, coworkers and more. Some economic research suggests that social networks are smaller in poorer countries, he said.
The virus has infected a large part of the population exposed to it in Pakistan and so far there may have been a lack of places to go, he said. Still, there are likely other parts of the population that remain vulnerable to the disease, especially in small towns and rural areas – although it is more difficult for the virus to spread there, the said. Dr Khan.
‘Time for humble introspection’
Officials say complacency could still reverse people’s behavior and spread the disease. Schools and wedding halls will likely open in September.
The government has called on the public to exercise restraint on the Eid holiday this weekend. As farmers return from selling their animals for slaughter in cities, they could carry the virus to rural areas for the first time, experts warn.
“Now is not the time to declare victory,” said Dr Sultan, adviser to the prime minister. “Now is the time to do some humble soul-searching and plan.”
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