Amid conflicting news from around the world about the final end of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan is making steady, even if slow, progress towards what looks like a success story of handling the destructive virus.
For the first time in many months, the country has reported less than 2,000 coronavirus infections in the last 48 hours.
With 1,240,425 infections and 27,597 deaths in total, Pakistan’s declining rates should come as a sigh of relief to the public and the policymakers alike who have seen from up close scarce scenarios develop and, mercifully, pass in quick successions in the last two years.
During peak times of the crisis, infections ran up to many thousands a day as deaths increased and hospitals and doctors reported their capacity getting jammed by the stream of COVID patients. Even though such situations never lasted beyond a few months (mostly July to August and sometimes in extreme winter months) these were enough for the red flags to go up.
Neighbourhood nightmares (like what India witnessed in its second COVID wave) fostered these fears further and a slow-moving vaccination campaign further exposed the government to criticism. Now that phase is winding up as vaccinations go up to cover even teenagers and schools.
Back to normal?
Government offices and designated public places enforce strict rules forcing people to take the antidotes to the virus seriously.
The declining infection numbers’ salutary effect on the public mood is also reinforced by the welcome moves like the recent decision by the UK to change Pakistan’s category to ‘amber’ from ‘red’ that allows eased up air travel and further boosts confidence.
According to the national control and command Centre, the policy body that deals with the COVID-related strategic mapping, in the last 36 hours a total of 48,732 tests were conducted and the positivity rate was 3.6 per cent.
This is the reason that for the first time in the last one-year schools have started to operate with full classroom strength and business are operating petty much full steam.
Warning against premature jubilation
Experts however warn against premature jubilation primarily because even last year Pakistan did see a steep decline around the same time of the year after the summer had caused the virus to spread far and wide. Then, as now, the news of fewer infections was greeted with much national celebration.
Health officials in Islamabad, the capital city, say that this time they are far more cautious than before and are insisting that vaccination campaigns have to be pushed beyond the existing levels to ensure that the country capitalises on its advantage and does not see a relapse of higher COVID-19 rates.
Other fears also keep everyone on their toes, including that of new mutations coming up that might challenge the health system all over again.
Strengthening immunity across nation
More to the point, there have been odd cases of even the vaccinated persons getting infected even though with far milder symptoms. That speaks to the need for boosters to be introduced to strengthen national immunity against the virus.
Health news also suggests that there might be need for yearly boosters for everyone to ensure that this pandemic or its other deadly variants don’t cause another global crisis.
Pakistan has to stay abreast of global trends to combat the virus, whose success formula is nationwide vaccination, enforcement of practical social distancing rules and boosters’ timely availability.
None of these elements in the equation to defeat the pandemic can be taken for granted. The virus has acted like a seasoned enemy: it lies in wait for the weaker points in its targets’ defences to emerge and then strikes with full and extraordinary force to cause maximum damage.
Some parts of the US and even Europe and South East Asia have seen this pattern of the pandemic. Pakistan will do well not to lower its guard even as it starts to breathe easy after a long time.
Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12