Defeating Corona: Pakistan Needs A Plan Beyond The Lockdown
Abdul Nadir argues that lockdown alone will not be enough to defeat coronavirus. Pakistan will have to daily assess its strategy to curtail the outbreak of corona. We can certainly win the battle, following the example of China and South Korea, but it will require persistence and a will to fight.
Even though it is not entirely clear what lockdown means in different provinces of Pakistan, yesterday’s government actions make it obvious that it has finally heeded to the calls of restricting people in their homes. What next? Is lockdown enough? What are we expecting in the next few days?
A quick glance at http://www.covid.gov.pk/stats/global tells the story of the last one week relative to the corona virus spread in Pakistan. Of the 892 cases of corona virus infections as of today, 399 and 249 reside in Sindh and Punjab respectively. Fortunately, thus far only six deaths have been reported. The number of corona cases jumped from 187 on March 17 to 874 on March 23 rd, a four-fold rise in less than a week! More than 100 cases are being added to the tally of the virus every day. The million dollar question is whether this exponential rise of infections will continue or will it be curtailed by the lock down. Time will tell, but considering the ground situation in Pakistan, one can predict that there can be thousands of cases of corona virus in Pakistan within a couple of weeks.
One has to learn from the world experience. New York Times reported today, “How a soiree in Connecticut became a super spreader”. No cases of corona virus were reported from West port, Connecticut, a town of 28,000, when on March 5 th,, about 50 people got together to celebrate a birthday party with guests from around the US, and one from Johannesburg. Till yesterday, 85 people have tested positive for corona virus in West port and the small town has 20% cases of the entire state of Connecticut. On the other hand, the example of South Korea is encouraging.
As soon as the number of cases began to rise in South Korea in February, wide spread testing for corona virus was made available for the public. All the contacts of known corona infection were chased down, tested and properly isolated. The result is obvious: low death rate and a rapid decline of new cases of corona virus.
Recent news of several people acquiring corona virus infection, among them two Palestinians, who were residing together in a mosque in Barakou, Islamabad, after returning from the religious congregation in Raiwind is similar to the report of corona virus spread in West port. The lesson for Pakistan is that in these tough times, Pakistanis will have to minimize their contacts in mosque, learning from the life of the Holy Prophet Mohammed PBUH, who always taught common sense and pragmatism in critical times.
There are reports that the government is procuring N-95 masks and other protective gear, besides test kits from China. The recent report from National University of Medical Sciences (NUMS) that Pakistani scientists have developed their own, validated corona virus test which is going to be rolled out soon is another silver lining.
The government will have to use all its resources to aggressively test those with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath and a travel history, and if someone turns positive, an aggressive hunt for all their contacts should be conducted, to test them and isolate them in health facilities to ensure they will not pass the infection to others.
Lockdown alone will not be enough. Pakistan will have to daily assess its strategy to curtail the outbreak of corona. We can certainly win the battle, following the example of China and South Korea, but it will require persistence and a will to fight. Pakistanis can still do it!
Dr. Abdul Nadir M.D. is an Assistant Professor at University of Arizona, U.S. He is the head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Maroof International Hospital, Islamabad.