ISLAMABAD: Pakistan may see a “spike in cases” of the deadly coronavirus if people failed to follow the predetermined standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha and the holy month of Muharram, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned on Monday.
PM Imran’s cautionary comments came almost three weeks after he advised people not to repeat “what they did on Eid-ul-Fitr” and exercise extra caution on Eid-ul-Azha so that a resurgence of the coronavirus could be avoided.
In a televised address to the nation, he said Pakistan’s situation was quite different from China, the US, and other European countries. Due to the ‘smart lockdown’ strategy, “we were able to contain the spread of coronavirus and now the whole world is now recognising its benefits,” he noted.
The premier said Pakistan’s strategy to tackle the virus had to be different as a big majority of daily wagers in the country were unregistered. “70-80% of labourers in our country are not registered; therefore, I approach had to be different than European countries.
India ‘now suffering’
“We could not take any drastic step like imposing curfew. We were afraid that more people will die from starvation and poverty than coronavius itself.
“India is now suffering the results of their decisions and the people are suffering in the neighborhood,” he said.
The world is admitting and accepting that lockdown was not the only solution to the virus situation, the prime minister stressed, adding that Pakistan was also focusing on the agricultural sector as “we do not want any distortions and disruptions in the food supply”.
PM Imran lamented the criticism for reopening the construction sector but underlined that “we took the risk and set our priorities straight to save the people from hunger and poverty”. He added that the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme was rolled out as part of the party’s agenda to provide cushion to the vulnerable segment of the society.
‘Lowest fatality rate’ in three months
“There’s no precedent of the Ehsaas programme in the world, [one] where the impoverished segment of the society was aided through transparent and synchronised operations.”
“Even when we were imposing smart lockdown, we implemented the lockdown strategically with clusters,” he commented.
The prime minister went on to thank his team for their efforts in tackling the crisis, saying: “I want to credit my team for pulling off such results. After three months, Pakistan has reported the lowest fatality rate comparatively to the past.
“We need to understand that the world is still experimenting with strategies to curb the virus. It has also been observed that if countries do not vigilantly make strategies for the post-pandemic world, the virus may return with a peak in the countries.
Reluctance to follow SOPs on Eid-ul-Fitr
“We have example of Australia, Iran, and other countries where the virus has returned and the spike of cases are reported once again,” he explained.
The PM again stressed for people to heed the SOPs in the upcoming days, noting: “If we will not be cautious during the Eid ul Adha and Muharram period, we might again see a spike of cases that will be devastating for the country.
“We have example of Eid-ul-Fitr, where we were reluctant to abide by the SOPs, the frontline workers were hugely impacted and we saw a surge in cases,” the PM remarked.
PM Imran said “our research” suggested that the most effective measure to keep the virus at bay was to wear face masks. It is quite simple and an easy preventive measure to adopt, he said.
‘Have to come back to normalcy’
“I am once again asking you all to be careful about the SOPS during the Eid-ul-Azha period,” he urged. “If the nation will cooperate, we have to resume our main sectors of the country including business, construction, and tourism.
“We have to come back to normalcy. We will resume schools, universities, and restaurants if the numbers for the virus keep on declining. We have to battle the disease collectively as a nation, together.
“I hope that you will cooperate with us during these crucial times of Eid-ul-Azha and Muharram when large gatherings are expected.”
Earlier today, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza had revealed that Pakistan reported its lowest number of deaths from the coronavirus in the past three months on Sunday, when only 20 people died due to the infection.
Lower testing due to ‘reduction in symptoms’
The PM’s aide had disclosed that the current statistics indicated an 87% drop in COVID-19 deaths. “We had a peak of 153 deaths on 20 June and in last 24 hours we had 20,” he wrote on Twitter.
Critics have said a drop in Pakistan’s coronavirus cases was due to the government testing fewer number of people. However, PM Imran’s focal person on COVID-19, Dr Faisal Sultan, rejected the claims in a press conference yesterday.
Dr Sultan had said a lower testing rate was witnessed due to a “reduction in symptoms being witnessed in people”.
“When the spread was more rapid, we carried out a greater number of tests,” he had stated.
‘Make collective sacrifices this time’
Dr Mirza, the PM’s aide on health, had a day prior advised people to be cautious of the coronavirus and observe the SOPs during Eid-ul-Azha 2020. He had urged people to book sacrificial animals online to avoid visiting cattle markets where large gatherings could contribute to the spread of the virus.
He had also said the government had prepared in advance for Eid-ul-Azha 2020, keeping in mind the violation of SOPs that took place during Eid-ul-Fitr earlier.
“Children, the elderly and the sick should not be taken to the cattle markets and people should try to make collective sacrifices this time,” he had noted. Mirza had also underscored that the citizens should abide by the issued guidelines to perform Eid prayers to stem the spread of the contagious disease.