More than 900 children under the age of 10 have so far tested positive for the new coronavirus in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, as the country considers reimposing a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the contagion.
Most of the children are asymptomatic and belong to poor families that live in cramped conditions, where physical distancing is almost impossible at home.
“These are all local cases where the children probably have gotten infection from some of their elders who had left the house who had gone somewhere or probably the family didn’t practice the social distancing in a proper manner,” Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh government spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
“The reason why I am saying this is because since February 26 schools have been closed.”
The province of Sindh has the highest number of cases in the country with at least 25,309 infections.
Local residents of low-income households say it is difficult to take safety precautions.
“Look at the situation we are living in, it’s all solid waste, smell everywhere while the government is talking about hygiene and social distancing. How is it possible in a situation like this and how we can keep our children safe?” Abdullah Baloch said.
Since March, Pakistan’s government has imposed varying degrees of lockdown in different provinces.
But in recent days, the government has loosened many lockdown restrictions, allowing smaller markets to reopen five days a week during daylight hours.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has maintained that a full lockdown is not economically sustainable for a country that was already in the midst of an economic crisis when its outbreak began in late February.
“It’s a catch 22 situation where you if open businesses you put everybody’s life into risk, to shut down businesses then there is economic downturn, so it’s not an easy choice,” Jamal Raza, director of the National Institute of Child Health, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s a choice between the devil and the deep sea basically.”
As of Friday, Pakistan had reported more than 64,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,334 deaths. At least 22,300 have so far recovered, according to government data.
The pandemic is already putting a strain on the country’s daily wage workers, testing its weak health infrastructure and struggling economy.