Govt to expand testing scope

-Asad Umar says new testing strategy to include asymptomatic people
-Confirmed virus cases tally exceeds 5,000 mark with 762 recoveries
-Recounts adverse impact on all economic fronts
-Hints at government decision regarding further lockdown by 13th

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: The nationwide tally of COVID-19 patients soared past 4,950 with 2,410 cases in Punjab, 1,318 in Sindh, 656 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 220 in Balochistan, 216 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 113 in Islamabad, and 34 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The virus has claimed 77 lives while at least 762 coronavirus patients have recovered. The number of cases has continued to soar despite the country being under lockdown for the third consecutive week.
The situation remains fluid and we’re updating stats as soon as new figures are officially released.
Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said on Saturday the government will decide on Monday whether or not to ease out the Covid-19 restrictions in the country.
Speaking at a media briefing along with Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, he said they would present suggestions to the prime minister and the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to take a decision on the extension of the lockdown.
He said the government is disbursing over Rs144 billion among deserving families under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme as more than one million persons have been provided Rs12,000 each till now.
Asad Umar emphasised that there is a need to guard the people against the deadly virus first and then accelerate the process of COVID-19 tests. He added there are 27 labs operational across the country.
He said 100,000 testing kits have already reached Karachi as the country will be able to conduct 20,000 to 30,000 tests in a day by the end of April. The minister also expounded on the negative impact of the coronavirus on the country’s fragile economy.
Meanwhile, Dr Zafar Mirza warned that easing the lockdown just because the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is lower than projected would be a mistake.
He said if the government relaxes the restrictions, the number of cases and deaths will witness a sharp increase.
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said on Saturday Pakistan now had the capacity to conduct at least 100,000 Covid-19 tests in 26 laboratories situated across the country, adding that the government may begin testing asymptomatic individuals moving forward.
“We’ve only been testing visibly symptomatic patients thus far. It is possible that we will start testing asymptomatic people going forward provided they came in contact with those who have already tested positive,” Umar said during a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza.
He further revealed that the government had procured and distributed 14 new Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test machines among the provinces.
“Yesterday we received material for 100,000 test kits, 50,000 of these will be given to Sindh while 25,000 to Balochistan.”
Citing South Korea’s mass testing and contact tracing as an example of a successful strategy against the coronavirus, Asad said that Pakistan also needed to conduct mass testing and contact tracing of those tested positive to curb the spread of Covid-19.
He said a future course of action on the country’s fight against Covid-19, including the curbs on movement and businesses, will be determined after the National Coordination Committee (NCC) session on Monday.
He added that the cabinet will be meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan before that on Sunday to seek his counsel regarding the country’s measures against the virus.
“We will present our recommendations to the prime minister on measures such as quarantining, contact tracing and mass testing tomorrow and seek his point of view on these matters,” Umar said.
“Additionally, NCC will conduct its session on Monday and we expect chief ministers of all four provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir to be present there.
My hope is that we can constitute a unified national plan going forward,” Umar added, reminding the nation that a full team at the National Command and Operation Centre was working in close coordination with the provinces at all times.
Umar concluded by noting that the government’s revenue had fallen by about one-third from the economic fallout of Covid-19 but that remittances continued to pour in, for which he thanked overseas Pakistanis.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, meanwhile, argued that easing restrictions right now would be a grave mistake for a country that is still fighting against Covid-19.
“Some people look at our numbers and think we haven’t had as many cases and deaths as other countries. This sort of thinking is a serious mistake,” Mirza said, cautioning that new cases and deaths will soar if restrictions were relaxed.
“In fact we should consider adding to our existing restrictions, if we can,” advised Mirza. Mirza also revealed that Serena Hotels and Habib Bank Ltd (HBL) are starting a new programme titled ‘Jazba-e-Khidmat’.
As part of it, Serena Hotels around the country have partnered up with HBL to provide food to medical professionals working on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.