Virus may peak in July-Aug: PM

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-Says difficult time ahead, if people don’t follow SOPs
-Virus tally hits 106,000 as over 34,000 recover from infection
-1,000 beds with oxygen supply being provided in major cities

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: A peak of the coronavirus cases is expected to hit Pakistan by the end of July or start of August, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Monday, warning of ‘a very difficult time’ ahead as the number of infections surpassed 100,000.
Appealing to the citizens to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs), PM Imran said not following the precautionary measures “will cause harm to the country”.
The lockdown to curb the spread of the respiratory illness does not end it but only slows it down, the premier explained. “In the United States, the lockdown was lifted despite 100,000 deaths,” he said, adding that America eased its restrictions with SOPs. “Likewise, our struggle is to open things with SOPs. Our priority is that the peak comes slowly so that our healthcare does not collapse, so that our hospitals do not face pressure as the peak is inevitable.
“According to our calculations, we can manage with SOPs; the peak is likely to come by the end of July or [start of] August. PM Imran said it was necessary to resume and continue business operations but stressed that people should follow the preventive and precautionary measures.
“I am making an appeal: please note that the elderly with preexisting medical conditions are at too high a risk,” he said. “People are not taking the virus seriously, not following the SOPs.”
If people violated the SOPs, Pakistan’s elderly and the vulnerable were at high risk and that would endanger the entire country, he said. Face masks were mandatory when going out, he noted, “as it’s proven that wearing masks brings a difference of 50%”. His government, PM Imran mentioned, would add nearly 1,000 beds to reduce the pressure on the health facilities.
“We are trying to have 1,000 beds with oxygen at the end of month,” he said, adding that there was a mobile application as well that informed people about the availability of beds in any city. The premier was talking about the Pak Nigehban app launched by the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) to check the availability of ventilators in hospitals across Pakistan.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had taken back its decision to reopen the country’s markets on weekends. “Coronavirus does not differentiate between provinces,” said the top court. “The federal government needs to take a lead on this and needs to come up with laws regarding this.” Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed questioned if all the departments in the country were functioning, why could the Parliament not.
“There need to be laws on a national level to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” he remarked, adding that laws needed to be implemented on a national level. The top judge added that nothing would come out of press conferences but instead laws were needed. “China immediately came up with laws to stem the spread of the virus,” he said. The top judge added that saving lives was the basic need of the hour.
In a hearing on the reopening of markets last month before Eid-ul-Fitr, the top court had announced shopping malls and markets should remain open seven days a week. CJP Ahmed had remarked that if the shops were shut down, then shopkeepers would “die of hunger rather than the coronavirus”.
Separately, authorities stepped up the enforcement of the government’s safety measures after coronavirus cases shot to over 104,000. Official data as of Monday indicated 104,190 infections and 2,069 deaths from the coronavirus. Record numbers of new infections over the last 10 days partly reflect increased testing. PM Imran had eased the country’s lockdown last month, putting safety measures in place to reopen markets, industries, and public transport.
However, Planning Minister Asad Umar told a weekend news conference that many markets and shops had been sealed because of non-compliance over the last few days.
“First, we educated the masses about the protocols, then, we warned them, and now, in the last meeting with the prime minister in the chair, we directed administrations to crack down on places protocols are not being followed,” he said. Of the 23,000 daily tests, more than one in five have been positive over the last 10 days. Before the lockdown was lifted on May 9, the number of tests finding the coronavirus was approximately one in 10, government statistics showed. Government officials say safety protocols were not being followed, particularly since just before the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. The May 9 decision to lift the lockdown despite increasing infections of the coronavirus was prompted by a worsening economic crisis and unemployment. Pakistan is the 16th country to exceed 100,000 infections, a Reuters tally showed. Infections among high-profile political personalities has also increased in the country, with Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also testing positive on Monday. The railways ministry said Monday Rashid was showing not any symptoms but has undergone self-isolation for two weeks.
Earlier in the day, PTI MNA Jai Prakash who attended the National Assembly session last week had tested positive for coronavirus. The lawmaker had reportedly also hosted an event in the evening which was attended by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. A day earlier, PPP MPA Sharjeel Memon had tested positive for the coronavirus and had gone into self-isolation. A long list of lawmakers have so far contracted the deadly virus; over the past few weeks, Minister of State for Narcotics Shehryar Afridi, PML-N’s Mian Naveed Ali, and PTI’s chief whip in the NA Aamir Dogar tested positive. PTI MPA Shaheen Raza was the first lawmaker in the country to succumb to the deadly coronavirus. MPAs Mian Jamsheduddin Kakakhel and Shaukat Manzoor Cheema also passed away earlier this month after being on the ventilator for a few days.
Previously, many politicians including ANP’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, and Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari had tested positive for coronavirus, after which they went into self-isolation and recovered. More than 100,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded, health authorities said on Monday, as hospitals warned they are running out of beds to treat patients.
Pakistan and neighbouring India and Afghanistan have lagged behind Western nations in virus tolls, but experts warn a lack of testing or accurate reporting in rural areas could be hiding true figures. In recent weeks, however, a sharp rise in new infections has been reported, and on Monday the government said more than 100,000 cases and 2,000 deaths had now been recorded.
Last week, a leaked government report suggested there were nearly 700,000 infections in Lahore alone. Doctors at several main hospitals in provincial capital told they were running out of beds, ventilators and other vital equipment.
“As the cases increase, more health care workers are also falling victim to the virus,” said Farooq Sahil, a doctor at Services Hospital Lahore. Khizer Hayat, chairman of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab chapter, said facilities across the province needed help.
“Hospitals are running out of beds; there aren’t enough ventilators given to us,” he told media. In Karachi, health centres are turning away the sick, with a large sign near the entrance of Indus Hospital stating there was no room for coronavirus patients. Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, who heads the national coronavirus task force, said on Monday a package to relieve pressure on hospitals was being finalised and would include 1,000 new beds in major cities.
The government’s lockdown policy has been patchy at best, with Prime Minister Imran Khan reluctant to call a nationwide shutdown in order to protect the economy. “The crisis is unfolding now as we have ceased to observe isolation,” said Sikander Ali Memon, who is leading Sindh province’s anti-virus efforts. In Balochistan, government spokesman Liaqat Shahwani told AFP the situation was serious, and authorities were struggling to cope.
The government lifted its lockdown last month but promulgated protocols for the reopening of markets, industries and public transport including mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing. “First we educated the masses about the protocols, then we warned them, and now, in the last meeting with the prime minister in the chair, we directed administrations to crack down on places protocols are not being followed,” Umar said in a news conference at the weekend.
Many markets and shops have been sealed because of non-compliance over the last few days, he said. Pakistan has been setting records for the number of new daily infections over the last 10 days, partly reflecting increased testing. But of the 23,000 tests daily, more than 1 in 5 have been positive over the last 10 days. Before the lockdown was lifted on May 9, the number of tests finding the coronavirus was approximately 1 in 10, government statistics show. Government officials say safety protocols are not being followed, particularly since just before Eidul Fitr.
The decision to lift the lockdown on May 9 despite increasing infections of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness Covid-19, was prompted by a worsening economic crisis and unemployment. Pakistan is the 16th country to exceed 100,000 infections, a tally showed. The virus spread has yet to peak, officials say.
The federal government on Monday announced it was working on increasing the bed capacity for coronavirus patients in major cities across the country. “We have decided in the NCOC meeting this morning that the federal government will ensure increase of 1,000 beds with oxygen supply capability in the major cities of the country within the month of June,” Federal Minister for Planning and Special Initiatives Asad Umar announced in a tweet. Hospitals across the country have reported they are running out of beds as the number of cases continue to rise in the country. A day earlier, the National Command and Operation Centre announced it had allocated and issued 250 additional ventilators through the National Disaster Management Authority to overcome challenges in critical care.
According to the data available, out of these, 72 ventilators were issued to Punjab, 52 each to Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 20 to Balochistan and 10 each to Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and 34 to Islamabad Capital Territory.