A student receives a vaccine from a health worker in an Islamic University ‘Jamia Naeemia’, in Lahore on July 12, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Pakistan has announced new curbs to contain the outbreak of the contagious Delta variant of the virus which officials say is behind the rising number of new infections in the country.

Smart lockdowns and travel restrictions would be imposed again to prevent the impending fourth wave of the pandemic, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said on Monday. The government will seek all possible administrative support including the army’s help to ensure enforcement of coronavirus rules, he said.

Travel curbs

To restrict travel during upcoming Eid holidays and in coming weeks, only vaccinated people will be allowed to visit tourist destinations upon the instructions of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which is leading the country’s pandemic response. NCOC has declared that people without a COVID-19 vaccination certificate would not be allowed to travel by air from August 1.

Dr Sultan said the government would make all efforts to ensure compliance of rules with focus on a two-pronged strategy: Strict enforcement of guidelines particularly in big cities and tourist places and by appealing the people to wear masks, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated. Vaccination is the only way to protect our people from COVID-19 spread, he said. “Around 450,000 vaccines doses were jabbed yesterday”. He said that an ample number of vaccine doses were available in the inventory and an additional six million doses are arriving soon.

Delta variant

Pakistan witnessed a gradual decline in the new infections and deaths in mid-June after which some of the restrictions including business hours and travel curbs were relaxed. Pakistan reported 830 new cases on July 5, which more than doubled to 1,808 daily infections on July 11. The virus positivity ratio that dropped to 1.7 per cent towards the end of June has now spiked to 4 per cent.

Dr Sultan attributed the worrying trend to the violation of COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the presence of COVID-19 variants — particularly the Delta variant that was first discovered in India. Health officials have confirmed that the Delta variant is behind at least half of the new cases reported in the country in recent days.

Islamabad administration has also decided to reintroduce smart lockdowns in high-risk areas and sealed several businesses over violation of laws as the number of new cases continues to surge in the capital city. Islamabad District Health Officer Dr Zaeem Zia has warned that the coming days, especially the Eid holidays, were crucial as it may lead to a disastrous spike in daily cases if people would not be careful. He advised citizens to strictly adhere to the health guidelines, avoid crowded places and get vaccinated to contain the spread of the virus.

Officials warn of fourth wave in Pakistan

Minister Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, warned that there are “clear early signs” of a fourth wave of the coronavirus in Pakistan. Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan also expressed fears that the fourth wave is looming and requested people to take necessary health measures to contain the spread of new variants. The prime minister said the “Indian variant (delta variant) is the biggest challenge” that led to a surge in cases and hospitalization in India first and later Bangladesh, Indonesia and Afghanistan. PM Khan advised people to follow precautionary measures, especially during Eid Al Adha to avoid lockdowns.