Lockdowns return

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AS WAS expected, the Government has been forced by the ground realities to go for stricter measures to combat the third wave of Covid-19, which is proving more lethal than the previous two waves.

In view of the fast deteriorating situation, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday imposed a ban on all kinds of gatherings with immediate effect but directed that wedding ceremonies be stopped from April 5.

Meanwhile, in a broadcast speech, Prime Minister Imran Khan informed the nation that delivery of vaccines to the country might be delayed and warned that the third wave of Covid-19 could be more dangerous than its earlier ones.

It is really alarming that the positivity rate has reached 10.5% and if no drastic measures were taken to curb the trend then we are heading towards a health tsunami.

Already, reports emanating from parts of the country speak of hospitals reaching their full capacity due to rapid increase in patients.

This is particularly worrisome as thousands of people are not reporting to hospitals and prefer to isolate them at homes for real or imaginary fears and apprehensions.

The Government is stepping back in a gradual manner as for as re-imposition of Covid-19 related restrictions are concerned but there are reasons to apprehend that comprehensive and total lockdowns are now a matter of weeks.

There are only two options to tackle the challenge – increase the pace of vaccination and ensure implementation of SOPs in letter and spirit.

As for as immunization is concerned, the country has serious limitations in respect of procurement of vaccines as well as their administration because citizens are not forthcoming for voluntary vaccination the way they should.

Vaccination of a huge population of 220 million is a daunting challenge and understandably, based on his intimate knowledge, the Prime Minister has expressed inability of the country to procure the required number of doses in a timely manner as there is tough competition for purchases.

In this backdrop, the Government will have to review its strategy about vaccination of the citizens giving priority to those who are more vulnerable to infection.

The health workers and senior citizens are being administered vaccines these days but in view of evolving risks priority should be given to media workers, personnel of law-enforcing agencies, employees belonging to essential services and drivers/conductors as they can become a source of rapid spread of Coronavirus.

There is also a need to increase the number of vaccination centres and cooperation of army medical corps can be sought to man them effectively.

It is also strange that people are not observing SOPs and social distancing despite the gravity of the situation and some segments of the society are even resisting measures being enforced by the Government to check the spread of the deadly disease.

Businessmen, shopkeepers, industrialists and transporters are openly flouting SOPs and are not extending necessary cooperation to make the campaign against Covid-19 a success.

Repeating his earlier stance, Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again emphasized that the country could not afford shutting businesses and factories or imposing complete lockdown.

He has, therefore, urged people to wear masks and observe other SOPs as this is the surest way to shield oneself against the virus.

The Premier has also advised people against visiting hotels or attending wedding ceremonies, which are reaching their peak before the onset of Ramadan.

There is also need to adopt special precautions during the holy month when shopping picks up and more people visit mosques for Taraveeh and Friday prayers.

The Government is guilty of dereliction of its duty as necessary protocols were not observed while handling inbound air travellers, resulting in the spread of the new variant of the virus.

If countries like Saudi Arabia can make prompt decisions to ban flights from all those countries where the instance of virus is increasing, then why can’t we take timely decisions to do so? The NCOC has sought cooperation of Provincial Chief Secretaries in implementing the SOPs and it is hoped the provinces would do so in their own interest.

The district administration of Islamabad has become proactive in the face of emerging situation and the Deputy Commissioner did not waste time in issuing a notification for stricter lockdown in a number of sectors/localities.

The situation can improve if Assistant Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of other affected areas also take prompt measures including imposition of fine on the SOPs violators.