Pakistan told to implement ‘intermittent lockdowns’ as virus surges

A health worker leaves after collecting Covid-19 samples from a family in Islamabad on Monday. (AP pic)

ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organization has told Pakistan it should implement “intermittent” lockdowns to counter a surge in coronavirus infections that has come as the country loosens restrictions, an official said Tuesday.

Since the start of Pakistan’s outbreak in March, Prime Minister Imran Khan opposed a nationwide lockdown of the sort seen elsewhere, arguing the impoverished country could not afford it.

Instead, Pakistan’s four provinces ordered a patchwork of closures, but last week Khan said most of these restrictions would be lifted.

That decision came as Pakistan’s infection rate is worsening, as it is across all of South Asia, which until recently had lagged Western nations in virus tolls.

Health officials said Tuesday they had recorded a total of 108,317 cases and 2,172 deaths – though with testing still limited, real rates are thought to be much higher.

“As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the pre-requisite conditions for opening the lockdown”, the WHO said in a letter to Punjab’s provincial health minister Yasmin Rashid.

Because much of the population hasn’t adopted behavioural changes such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, “difficult” decisions will be required including “intermittent lockdowns” in targeted areas, the letter states.

The health body recommended an intermittent lockdown cycle of two weeks on, two weeks off.

“The WHO letter has highlighted the importance of following the SOPs (standard operating procedures), and the Punjab government has already given out orders to take strict action against those violating SOPs”, Rashid told reporters Tuesday while confirming receipt of the June 7 letter.

Some 25% of tests in Pakistan come back positive for Covid-19, the WHO said, indicating high levels of infection in the general population.

Hospitals across the country say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning Covid-19 patients away.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that 136,000 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, “the most in a single day so far”, with the majority of them in South Asia and the Americas.

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