On Wednesday, the coronavirus positivity rate fell below four percent for the first time in three months. A day earlier, Pakistan had launched its homemade covid-19 vaccine “PakVac”, developed with the help of China. As only a fraction of the population has been immunized so far, the government has taken a welcome decision to commit $1.1 billion for vaccines to cover the eligible population that from today will also include those aged 18. As the commitment of the funds is fairly late, Pakistan will have to stand in long queues formed because of demand for the vaccines outstripping their supply.
The government has announced certain relaxations which were badly needed. There would now be a compulsory 100 percent presence in government offices while shopping areas will remain open for six days a week. After June 15 transporters will be allowed to fill 70 percent of seats in buses and coaches. To discourage those still unwilling to get a shot, vaccination has been made compulsory for every government or private sector employee.
The administration cannot afford to lower its guard. There is unfortunately a tendency in some of the PTI leaders to overplay their government’s success. Any display of triumphalism or complacency could be extremely harmful on account of new and more dangerous corona variants appearing in various countries. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s “world recognizes the struggle waged by Pakistan against COVID-19” remark reminds one of similar accolades that brought tragedy to India. By mid-February, India was counting an average of 11,000 cases a day. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths from the disease had slid to below 100. Modi was called a “vaccine guru” and an overconfident India announced key elections in five states. In less than a month, things began to unravel. India was in the grips of a devastating second wave of the virus and cities were facing fresh lockdowns.
Pakistan is still far away from reaching herd immunity and its vaccination rate remains slow. It has yet to enable its civilian institutions like police to enforce covid-19 SOPS instead of calling in the Army. Pakistan would do better to err on the side of caution. So long as there is no herd immunity through all-out vaccination, things can go out of hand because of overconfidence or carelessness.