'Smart lockdown' in Pakistan to target 500 coronavirus hotspots

Authorities to impose locality-based lockdowns as country sees one of the world's fastest rates of infections.

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    After weeks of a strict lockdown, Imran Khan's government eased almost all restrictions in late May [Reuters]
    After weeks of a strict lockdown, Imran Khan's government eased almost all restrictions in late May [Reuters]

    Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan's government has identified 500 coronavirus hotspots across the country to be targeted in its "smart lockdown" strategy, according to the country's top health official.

    Zafar Mirza, the prime minister's special adviser on health and head of the federal health ministry, told legislators at a briefing on Monday that these areas would be targeted for limited locality-based lockdowns - which the government has dubbed "smart lockdowns" - to control the spread of the coronavirus.

    "Due to the current economic situation, it is impossible to implement complete lockdown in the country. However, the government [is] focusing on smart lockdown policy," a statement released after the meeting said.

    Pakistan has emerged as one of the countries with the fastest rate of coronavirus infections in recent weeks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

    On Monday, countrywide cases rose by 3,946, taking the overall tally to 185,034 since the country's outbreak began in late February, according to government data.

    At least 105 patients died on Monday, according to the data, taking the death toll to 3,766.

    Pakistan, like many South Asian countries, has seen a lower observed mortality rate from the coronavirus than European and other countries that have been hard-hit by the virus.

    As of Monday, the country's case fatality rate stood at 2 percent, compared with a worldwide average of 5.25 percent.

    Hospitals struggle as coronavirus cases explode in Pakistan

    Lack of healthcare facilities

    On Monday, Pakistan saw a decrease in testing, with 24,599 tests carried out countrywide, a reduction of roughly 6,000 from the previous day, according to government data.

    The WHO has called for Pakistan, a country of 220 million, to conduct at least 50,000 tests daily in order to gauge the true prevalence of the virus.

    The country's rickety health infrastructure has been faltering under the pressure of a surge in cases since the government lifted most restrictions on public gatherings and businesses last month.

    On Monday, health adviser Mirza said 1,000 more ventilators were due  by the end of the month to increase Pakistan's infrastructure capacity.

    There are 3,001 ventilators countrywide, of which 1,503 are currently allocated for COVID-19 patients. According to government data, 37 percent of the allocated capacity of ventilators is in use by critically ill patients.

    Hospitals in major cities, however, have already begun to report acute critical-care shortages, forcing them to even turn away patients.

    On Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had opposed the strategy of imposing a widescale lockdown to contain the virus from the beginning, arguing that the country's economy could not afford it.

    After weeks of a strict lockdown, Khan's government eased almost all the restrictions in late May, allowing the reopening of business and shops and placing the responsibility of following physical distancing and hygiene guidelines on citizens.

    "This coming month is a difficult month, but we will impose smart lockdowns [...] and the biggest part of the smart lockdown is that those people whose lives are in danger because of this illness, people who are elderly or those with other illnesses," said Khan at a charity event on Monday.

    "We have to make sure the lockdown is for them. They need to take extra care. If we can save these people, then the effect of corona[virus] will not be as bad as we have seen in other countries of the world."

    Pakistan's government has so far distributed 135 billion Pakistani rupees ($818m) in cash grants to low-income families to provide financial aid during the pandemic, benefitting an estimated 11.2 million citizens, according to the government's data.

    Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera's digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News