Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar has said the tally of novel coronavirus cases across the country may double within next two weeks and can reach 1.2 million cases by the end of July.
During the past 24 hours, the country reported 6,365 Covid-19 cases and 67 deaths, taking the national tally of cases to 142,229 and fatalities to 2,663.
The minister said by mid-June, the number of cases had reached around 150,000. “Based on current pace of cases, the number of confirmed cases can reach 300,000 by the end of current month and will reach one million to 1.2 million by the end of July,” he said while addressing a press briefing at the National Coordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday.
“However,” he added, “the good news is that it is in our hands to control the spread of disease and we can do it by following the standard operating procedures (SOPs).”
While rejecting the recommendation of a complete lockdown to slow down the spread, the minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had a number of times appealed to the masses to adopt all precautionary measures. “A number of times same message has been given from the platform of NCOC,” he said.
Two weeks after easing the lockdown restrictions, the government on May 30 declared the wearing of masks at public places mandatory. “In May, we made the wearing of masks mandatory, because according to studies masks can reduce the spread of virus by 50 per cent. We should wear masks at offices, factories, markets and in public transport. It is responsibility of the government to care about the masses and that is why we have been pushing people to wear masks,” he said.
Mr Umar reiterated that it was not possible for the authorities to enforce complete lockdown across the country and that’s why the government had to introduce a policy of tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ). This way ‘smart lockdowns’ were being enforced at hotspots, he added.
“Smart lockdown is enforced in Islamabad, and Punjab has also decided to go for smart lockdowns. In India, complete lockdown was announced due to which people had to travel up to 400 kilometres on foot but the spread of coronavirus could not be stopped there. Now India has also decided to relax the restrictions,” he said.
The minister announced that soon 2,150 intensive care unit beds equipped with oxygen facility would be provided across the country. He said the testing capacity of virus had been increased. “We were only testing 500 people at the start of the pandemic. Now we are able to conduct 30,000 tests a day and we have decided to take our testing capacity to more than 100,000 tests a day by the end of July,” he said.
Clean chit given to PM’s aide
Meanwhile, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) gave clean chit to Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza in the masks smuggling case.
The inquiry had been initiated in March after Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association (PYPA) representative Dr Furqan Ibrahim complained that the PM’s aide and some officials of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) had allegedly smuggled 20 million masks from Pakistan.
According to a document, available with Dawn, the authority had banned export of respiratory (N95) masks, goggles or face shields, disposable gloves, disposable gowns, etc on Jan 30. The document stated the ban had been imposed due to the virus and if the articles were exported, strict action would be taken against the violators. However, six companies were allowed on Feb 8 to export unlimited number of the equipment, as written directions were issued for relaxation of the ban.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government drew sharp criticism from medical fraternity after the decision to relax the restriction to allow the export of personal protective equipment (PPEs) at a time when the masks were in high demand due to the toxic gas leakage in Karachi’s Keamari that claimed several lives and the looming threat of Covid-19 outbreak.
The FIA report, available with Dawn, stated that the complaint was that six permits of export were issued after getting a bribe of Rs60 million. It said: “No-objection certificates (NOCs) were issued to different non-pharma Chinese companies for request as donation considering the nature of Pakistan-China relations were no more than a friendly gesture for all allied country like China. The complainant failed to provide any evidence in support of his claims. Dr Mirza had no direct or indirect relations with the issuance of permits/NOCs.”
The spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services Sajid Shah said Dr Mirza ensured merit and transparency in all decisions and that was why some elements tried to malign him and filed repeated complaints against him.