Federal Minister for Planning and head of the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) has announced that Pakistan is currently facing the third wave of COVID-19. On March 15, Pakistan registered more than 2000 positive virus cases for the fifth consecutive day, with 2,253 people testing positive for COVID-19. 29 people lost their lives in the last 24 hours, according to the latest statistics released by the NCOC, bringing Pakistan’s total death toll to 13,537.
In the last week, the daily positive cases reported in Pakistan have risen exponentially. On March 8, 1,353 cases were reported while towards the end of the week, cases soared over 2000. On March 11, Pakistan recorded its highest single-day tally in two months with 2,710 cases.
Punjab currently leads the list of fatalities registered across Pakistan with 5,769 casualties, followed by 4458 in Sindh; 2159 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 526 in Islamabad Capital Territory; 202 in Balochistan; 103 in Gilgit-Baltistan, and 320 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The NCOC, on March 2, also confirmed the presence of a new United Kingdom (UK) strain of the coronavirus in Pakistan and warned the public to strictly adhere to COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Lockdown and restrictions
On March 14, three sub-sectors of Islamabad were sealed by authorities due to the massive spread of the virus. Sub-sectors F-11/1, I-8/4, and I-10/2 were sealed on Sunday night in an attempt to curb the rising positivity rate.
“More areas are expected to be locked down. The new UK variant strain is prevalent in Islamabad. NOCs issued to all functions, festivals, gatherings withdrawn. Any kind of indoor activity is not allowed. Outdoor functions are only allowed for 2 hours with less than 300 people,” Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner stated in a post on Twitter.
The notification further banned offices from allowing more than 50% of their employees at a time while strictly adhering to SOPs. Commercial areas and amusement parks will also be completely locked down on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
“Any violation in any premises of social distancing or mask wearing will be sealed forthwith,” the Commissioner added.
Meanwhile, the government of Punjab has imposed a smart lockdown in seven cities of the province. 17 areas in Gujrat, 16 in Lahore, and four in Rawalpindi have been sealed. Several areas in Sargodha, Multan, Gujranwala, and Faisalabad have also been sealed for the next two weeks.
Indoor wedding halls, shrines, cinemas, and community centres have also been closed in the most affected areas of Gujarat, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Multan, and Gujranwala.
The Sindh government has decided to reimpose restrictions, according to a notification issued by the Home Department, with an immediate effect for a period of one month ending on April 15.
According to the notification, all commercial businesses, e.g. markets, shopping malls, marriage halls, will be opened from 6 am to 10 pm. These restrictions, however, would not apply to pharmacies, hospitals, and petrol pumps.
Amusement parks will also be closed by 6 pm. Meanwhile, indoor weddings have been banned in Sindh, while outdoor weddings will be allowed with an upper limit of 300 people till 10 pm.
Indoor dining has also been restricted, while indoor gyms, cinemas, theatres and shrines have also been closed amid rising infections.
In a bid to control the cases, the Sindh government has also directed private and public offices to implement the work-from-home policy, under which the offices will operate at 50% capacity.
“Compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing at all government/private offices and public places,” the notification added.
The government added that smart lockdown will be imposed in the coronavirus hotspots if needed and deemed appropriate by respective Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners under the Sindh Epidemic Diseases Act 2014.
Schools closed in Punjab, operate at half capacity elsewhere
In the wake of rising coronavirus cases across Punjab, the NCOC has decided to shut down educational institutions in seven districts of Punjab, including Lahore, from March 15-28.
The districts include Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Gujrat, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Sialkot where the educational institutions will remain closed. The educational institutions will also be closed for two to three weeks in Islamabad.
Addressing a conference alongside Prime Minister’s health aide Dr Faisal Sultan, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said schools in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan will continue to operate with 50 % attendance because the cases in the provinces weren’t spiking.
The minister clarified that the decision will be applicable to all educational institutions, including universities. These restrictions will, however, not be applicable to exams, he said, adding that A-Level, matric, and intermediate examinations will be held as per the schedule.
“Schools should monitor the situation themselves and take the necessary decisions,” he added.
Provincial Minister for Education, Punjab, Murad Raas on March 15 announced that all examinations currently ongoing in educational institutions must conclude by March 19.
Vaccination drive underway
Vaccination drives for healthcare workers and people about 65 are currently ongoing across Pakistan. The vaccine being administered in Pakistan currently has been provided by the Chinese company Sinopharm.
Pakistan also expects to receive shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX in March.
Punjab’s Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, on March 15, announced that the Pakistani government is in talks with Chinese pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics Inc (CanSinoBIO) to import COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are in negotiations with CanSino and probably, we will be importing our own vaccine. The government of Pakistan has allocated $150,000 million just for the purchase of vaccine,” she said.
She added that Pakistan had approved the CanSinoBIO vaccine, which is single-dose, in February for emergency use.
Pakistan is to receive 45 million jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine under the COVAX scheme, she added. By June, Pakistan will receive more than 10 million doses.
While talking about the vaccination drive in the province, Dr Yasmin Rashid said that the government of Punjab has set up 116 vaccination centres and till now, 150,000 healthcare workers have been inoculated.
“It is very important to vaccinate the elderly people. In every district, our quarantine centers have been converted into vaccination centers,” said said.