Pakistan’s deadliest day since COVID pandemic began, curbs mulled

At least 201 deaths reported in the past 24 hours as the country grapples with a surge in infections since early March.

pakistan army
Army soldiers patrol the street, to enforce coronavirus safety protocols in Peshawar, Pakistan [File: Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has seen more than 200 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the country’s deadliest day since the pandemic began last year, official data shows, as authorities contemplate imposing new lockdown restrictions.

At least 201 deaths were reported by the authorities on Wednesday, taking the country’s death toll to 17,530, according to data from the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), which is overseeing the government’s pandemic response.

There were 5,292 new cases of the coronavirus recorded, with active cases rising by 413 to 88,207, the data showed.

Pakistan has been grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases since early March, when daily case rises began to exceed 2,000 cases.

The country has been carrying less than the World Health Organization-recommended number of tests, and recorded a test-positive rate of 10.77 percent on Tuesday, official data showed, with 49,101 tests conducted.

The country has also been seeing a higher number of daily deaths due to COVID-19 since February. In April, there have been at least 3,000 deaths, or 17 percent of all COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began, according to official data.

This week, the government deployed military troops to 16 big cities where test-positive rates were high in a bid to increase enforcement of government restrictions on business timings and market opening, as well as social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Authorities in Pakistan are contemplating imposing new lockdown restrictions [File: Arif Ali/AFP]

Strict measures have been taken in cities where the test positivity rate is higher than elsewhere, and the government additionally announced widespread restrictions on travel and businesses during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in mid-May.

The government has also postponed scheduled examinations for secondary school students across the country until after June 15, after widespread anger from students and parents at an earlier decision to go ahead with the tests.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Faisal Sultan said the government was working to increase hospital capacity in places where it was needed.

“We are increasing the capacity of our healthcare system every day so that there are proper facilities available for this increasing number of COVID patients,” he said.

As of Tuesday, at least 570 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators across Pakistan, according to NCOC data. Doctors in the cities of Lahore and Islamabad told Al Jazeera that COVID wards were filling up, with little excess capacity.

On Wednesday, more than 70 percent of available ventilators were occupied in Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, Multan, Mardan and Gujranwala, according to NCOC data. In the central city of Gujranwala, the NCOC recorded occupancy of beds equipped with oxygen supply for patients at 98 percent.

Pakistan began its vaccination drive for citizens in February, and has so far administered more than 2.1 million doses, according to Planning Minister Asad Umar.

The country has lagged behind others in the region on vaccine procurement and rollout, with a current vaccination rate of 0.95 doses per 100 citizens, according to official data.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera