Vaccination Pakistan
Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Sindh, the province has gone into lockdown as of Saturday Image Credit: Reuters

As the World Health Organisation sounds grim warnings about the rise of Delta variant of COVID-19, even in seemingly secure countries like China, a hectic effort is being made in Pakistan to protect the population from becoming an unsuspecting victim to the pandemic.

New directives issued by the government make it is harder for the unvaccinated to go about their lives as before. From entry into restaurants, colleges, universities, and government offices to taking flights and visiting hospitals, you now need to have a certification of inoculation.

This piece of e-paper, available upon filling out a form online, isn’t easy to manage. Those with one dose and waiting to be administered the second one don’t get it on time. Those who have been given both doses but somehow left out of the database now have to find out when and where they got the injections and then place the information into the portal.

Those who are willing to get vaccinated — to be able to move around freely — face shortages. Last week a large crowd in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, panicked after a long wait for vaccination and ended up attacking the vaccination centre.

This was on account of the warning by the local government that - starting this week - those who did not get vaccinated might find themselves locked out of the system. There is also a rather radical proposal being considered to temporarily freeze the national identification card of those without vaccination.

Concerns and apprehensions

While this has created a compulsion for the population to take the Delta variant of the virus seriously, there has not been a significant increase on the supply side of vaccinations.

For all the noise and fury, only 6.6 per cent of the population is vaccinated. Experts estimate that at this rate of availability, it will take another four months for Pakistan to cover 10 per cent of its population.

The other issue relates to cases of infections even among those who got vaccinated. Here also cases that involve prominent people or public figures has garnered either big publicity or negative fallouts.

One of the senior-most judges of the Pakistan Supreme Court, who is in line to become the chief justice in a year or so, got infected despite being inoculated.

For the public, such news dents faith in the vaccinations; for the policymakers this underlines the next-level issue of adding boosters to the vaccination drive.

If the Delta variant of the virus has gone through several mutations and if the global prognosis is correct (that it can adapt to local conditions), then even that part of Pakistan’s population which has got the vaccine cover cannot be considered to be out of the red.

Or if nothing else, the vaccinated potentially remain as contagious a carrier of the virus as the non-vaccinated part of the population. Without boosters, therefore, the vaccination effort would remain an inadequate guarantee of success against the pandemic.

Questions over the lockdown

In the meanwhile, many questions continue to baffle the decision-makers. Among these, the most problematic one is what parts of the economy to close and what not to! 

The federal government has locked horns with a provincial government run by the opposition party, Pakistan People’s Party, over the latter’s decision to impose stringent lockdown across the Sindh province.

The federal minister for information was quick to warn the provincial government about the sweeping nature of the ban saying that federal operations in the province would not be allowed to be affected by the ban.

Others say that being the hub of business and industry, the provincial capital, Karachi, cannot be shut down because this will cause immeasurable economic loss. There is a stalemate of an odd kind and the local “curfew-like lockdown” has exceptions because the federal government does not agree with the logic of the provincial government’s policy.

But the virus is beyond such battles over jurisdictions. Its most effective counter is a mix of uniformity of response, speedy vaccinations, boosters for the vaccinated and a perpetual effort to enforce social distancing till such time that herd immunity is acquired. For Pakistan that’s a lot of boxes to tick.

Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12