LAHORE: What began as a few mysterious pneumonia cases in the Chinese industrial city of Wuhan in November last year spread to the rest of the country and then the world in the blink of an eye.
Coronavirus, which, at first, was classified as an outbreak, subsequently on March 12, was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). To date, the infectious disease has affected over 6 million people worldwide, leaving some 0.36 million dead.
The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way the world functions and until a vaccine is invented it is highly unlikely that things will return to normal any time soon.
As Pakistan moves closer to reporting its 67,000th Covid-19 patient, a closer look at the official numbers presents a picture independent from repeated governmental assurances and conspiracy theories.
The country confirmed its first coronavirus-related death on March 18, a day after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) postponed the knockout round of the much-hyped Pakistan Super League (PSL) for an indefinite period of time owing to the health crisis.
Sensing the deteriorating situation, the Sindh government entered into province-wide lockdown despite reservations expressed by the federal government including the economic fallout of the decision. The lead was followed by the rest of the provinces/administrative units who subsequently announced quarantines to restrict the spread of the virus.
The curve was relatively smoother till March 29. It was not until March 30 that the situation started to deteriorate rather quickly. On that day, the government announced ten Covid-19 deaths overnight.
By April 14, at least 100 countrymen had died of the pandemic. Worryingly enough, the toll doubled in just six days as the national database showed the 200th death on April 21.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, during the hearing of a suo motu case on the government’s handling of the pandemic, gave verbal orders to remove Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, the driving force behind the government’s anti-coronavirus efforts. However, much to the government’s relief, the verbal directive was not followed by any concrete action by the apex court.
Subsequently, on April 30, the death toll had surged to 400 with 30 deaths the previous day.
As the cases began to see an uptick, Prime Minister Imran Khan started to make calls to ease the quarantine since a prolonged lockdown, he argued, will result in “poor dying from hunger”. In the meantime, his government announced several relief packages to support the corporate sector in addition to calling upon it to not lay off employees.
Far from flattening, the curve displayed the 600th death on May 6, making Pakistan the 29th country in the world to surge past 500 Covid-19 deaths mark. The following week, Prime Minister Imran, in his umpteenth coronavirus-related press briefing, called on the nation to “learn to live with the pandemic” as he sought to convince the medical community that lifting of lockdown was imperative to provide jobs to 25 million informal labourers and workers, who had become jobless due to lockdown.
Imran, subsequently on May 7, announced to gradually lift the nationwide quarantine, saying what in his opinion had become the “internationally established fact” that lockdown is a temporary solution to the health crisis.
The following week, various associations of doctors warned of an “alarming acceleration” of cases in the future if the government continued to lift restrictions so quickly. A joint declaration issued by the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, Pakistan Medical Association, Pakistan Academy of Family Physicians and Young Doctors’ Association said the government would have to “learn and redefine its strategies”.
Meanwhile, the rate at which single-day deaths were being recorded jumped to 40 cases per day. On May 14, the country witnessed the 800th national succumbing to the virus. The graph showed that deaths doubled every 6.6 days.
WHO, meanwhile, repeatedly warned governments the world over, seeking to ease the quarantines amid an apparent decrease in new cases, that “it is too soon to lift lockdown measures” and the move “risked causing a second wave of cases.”
As infections trended higher, total deaths crossed the 1,000 mark on May 20. Despite the dashboard scorecard moving upwards, the government once again defended of the lifting of the lockdown, saying the virus spread has been “well below projections”.
As Eidul Fitr approached nearer, the government further relaxed the restrictions and extended the business hours till 10:00 pm. However, the decision met with a massive flouting of standard operating procedures (SOPs) in markets that were packed to the rafters.
As the cases crossed the 60,000 mark, SAPM Dr Mirza on Monday said that the government was considering resuming the lockdown across the country, citing an increase in the mortality rate.
In the past 24 hours, the virus killed at least 81 across the country, including five medical practitioners.