Covid death toll hits 10-month high

Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: The country on Tuesday registered 118 deaths from coronavirus-related complications, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said, this highest since June last. Pakistan had reported 153 fatalities from the contagion disease on June 19 during the first peak of the pandemic. With the new deaths, the toll rose to 15,619, the statement said.
In the 24 hours, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 729,920 after the portal reported 4,318 new cases. Meanwhile, recoveries increased by 3,432 to 638,267, or 87.4 percent of total infections.
There are currently 76,034 active cases of Covid-19 in the country, with 4,198 in critical condition, the NCOC said.
The statistics suggest most deaths occurred in Punjab, 74, followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 32.
To counter a third wave of the pandemic, the authorities have taken several measures by banning all kinds of both indoor and outdoor mass gatherings, closing educational institutions in some areas of the country, and suspending inter-provincial transport two days a week from April 10 to 25.
Last week, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, said that increased restrictions, broader lockdowns, and strong enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs) have started to show give dividends.
The rising trend of positivity rate has been flattened, but the number of critical patients and mortality will stay at high levels for some time due to the momentum of the last two weeks, he had said.
Meanwhile, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters who blocked major roads to protest the arrest of their leader, Saad Rizvi, also disrupted critical oxygen supplies for Covid-19 patients, health officials said.
Major intersections remained closed in Lahore after the arrest on Monday evening of Rizvi whose hardline party led calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador after President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine’s right to republish blasphemous caricatures depicting Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).
Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid said the disruption of oxygen supplies during protests Monday night had been a “crisis”.
“Please do not block roads for ambulances and for visitors to the hospitals. Some ambulances are carrying oxygen cylinders, which are extremely essential for Covid patients,” she said.
Punjab pandemic point person Asad Aslam said several hospitals had faced oxygen shortages Monday night, but the situation had stabilised after roads were cleared by authorities.
Separately, Umar said that 1.3 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus nationwide and the vaccination drive will be expedited after the Eidul Fitr.
Addressing a press conference, he said Pakistan has the availability of 0.9 million vaccines until Monday night and 60,000 to 70,000 nationals are being vaccinated on a daily basis.
The government has continued its efforts to make Covid-19 vaccines available in the country, said Umar.
He, however, observed that countries the world over were facing vaccine shortages. It is impossible to administer vaccines to billions of people at the same time, he added. Umar said that all countries were trying to procure maximum doses for their citizens.
Umar further said that 1.3 million people were given vaccines free-of-cost and only 13,000 people got their jabs privately.
Elderly citizens are most vulnerable to the disease, however, the vaccines would be made available for all people after Eidul Fitr.
He also urged citizens to keep registering themselves for the vaccination. He admitted that out-of-turn use of the vaccines was witnessed in some cases, especially in Sindh.
He said that the authorities had witnessed a hike in fresh cases a month ago and started tracking Covid-19 trends and predicting hotspots for detection of the UK variant.
After a thorough investigation, the spread of the British variant was confirmed by the health authorities, he recounted. Umar said the highly contagious strain spread across the region and became the most common strain in the South Asian nations.
However, a study — published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a medical journal — suggested the mutation, known as B.1.1.7, does not cause more severe disease in hospitalised patients.
The study analysed a group of 496 Covid-19 patients who were admitted to British hospitals in November and December, comparing outcomes in patients infected with B.1.1.7 or other variants. The researchers found no difference in risks of severe disease, death, or other clinical outcomes in patients with British and other variants.
During his presser, Umar also praised the media for playing an important role in raising awareness and leading people to maintain social distancing and wearing face coverings since the outbreak in Pakistan in February last.
The NCOC chief clarified that reports claiming a high infection rate among children during the ongoing wave were incorrect.
He expressed disappointment that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not being followed. He said that district administrations across the country were now adopting tougher measures to curtail the virus.
He said that the infection rate has come down due to the recent preventive steps and asked people to adopt precautions over the next two to three weeks. He added that the positivity rate could be increased due to crowded markets.
The minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had contracted coronavirus before being administered the vaccine. The vaccine is effective against all variants discovered to date. He clarified that the vaccines are being used according to their initial results and the final results will emerge within five to six months.
The federal government has allocated $350 million for the procurement of the vaccine and $150 million have been spent so far. He further said that the health sector is a provincial subject after the 18th amendment.
The government launched the vaccination for the general public in March, starting with older people. It is currently offering free doses to frontline healthcare workers and people over the age of 50, but the drive has thus far been slow.
The authorities are also grappling with a high degree of vaccination hesitancy among the people, even among health workers.
The government has so far relied on donations and purchases from China.
However, in a rare admission of the weakness of its vaccines, a top Chinese disease control official last week said that their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centres for Disease Control (CCDC), Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries, including Pakistan. “It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunisation process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer that produced the CanSino vaccine, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4 percent by researchers in Brazil.
By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been reported to be 97 percent effective. Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.