As virus spikes, Pakistan says there’s no choice but to open
PESHAWAR: The coronavirus is spreading in Pakistan at one of the fastest rates in the world, and overwhelmed hospitals are turning away patients. But the government is pushing ahead with opening up the country, trying to salvage a near-collapsed economy where millions have already slid into poverty from pandemic restrictions.
Further complicating the dilemma, as the government pins its main hope for stemming the virus’ rampage on social distancing and masks, many in the public ignore calls to use them.
“I am nervous when I go out because I see our people are still not taking it seriously,” said Diya Rahman, a broadcaster at Radio Pakistan in the capital, Islamabad. Two of her colleagues have died of the virus and more than 20 others have tested positive.
She fears that “until they see their families are dying they won’t understand that we can save ourselves if we adhere to the guidelines, to wear masks.”
Pakistan is a prime example of fragile developing countries that say they’ll just have to live with rising infections and deaths because their economies cannot withstand an open-ended strict lockdown.
But the rapid acceleration in infections in Pakistan this month could be an indicator of what faces other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The rate of new cases in Pakistan leaped from around 2,000-3,000 a day in late May to as high as 6,800 a day in mid-June. Deaths are nearing 150 a day. So far, more than 180,000 people have been infected in this country of 220 million, and the government on Sunday said that the number could total 1.2 million people in August. Authorities have reported 3,590 deaths.
Pakistan butted heads with the World Health Organization over the spike. Earlier in June, the WHO warned the government in a letter that Pakistan was in the top 10 countries in the speed of the virus’ spread and faced devastating effects from opening prematurely. It urged the government to alternate between two weeks of lockdown and two weeks of opening. The Associated Press acquired a copy of the letter, which was partially reported in the press.
The government rejected the proposal. One lawmaker this week even accused the WHO of “imperialism” in dictating to Pakistan. - AP