An axiom bandied about by a suspicious populace is that for every one confirmed incidence of something there are x number that go unreported. Scanning across the news from Pakistan, one comes to the conclusion, that for whatever reason, the number of Corona virus (Covid-19) cases are being under-reported. Today, as the number of cases of Corona virus in Pakistan cross 200, if it was not clear before that the Covid-19 would wreak havoc in Pakistan, it is clear that it will lead to the loss of lives. With a death that was prematurely attributed today to Corona Virus, of a man who had been quarantined for the disease in Mayo Hospital Lahore, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan has deigned to address the nation on this topic, today.
However, as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Pakistan rises, it has become clear that the disastrous handling of returning pilgrims from Iran is what boosted the number of Corona patients in Pakistan. Pakistan neighbours Iran, which has been one of the four major epicentres of the disease, along with China, South Korea and Italy. With reports coming in that Iran might possibly have five times the number of infected and dead, Pakistan can be sitting right next to a disaster.
The drastic rise in cases comes from religious pilgrims returning from Taftan, who may have been thrust into a difficult situation by the Iranian regime. In the last few weeks, they were practically stranded on the Iran-Pakistan border with the Balochistan and federal government unable to respond effectively at that remote location to the large number of people who had to be checked for Covid-19, and unable to maintain a quarantine in effective circumstances. This lack of foresight and paucity of effective planning lead to the quarantine at Taftan being squalid and overwhelmed. Reports have also come in from people such as academic Naveed Ahmed of scant testing, and the authorities pushing the returning pilgrims into squalid quarantine. Ahmed also has stated that the Iranians seemed to have been pushing Pakistanis to leave their own overwhelmed nation, as quickly as possible.
As pilgrims from Taftan have returned to their home province, too many of them, who may not have been properly examined, or may have even skipped their quarantine (or suffered transmission of Covid-19 in the camps or in their journey) might be suffering from the disease. The results from Sukkur (where there are 119 Corona virus patients) confirms that there are now pockets across the country of returned pilgrims who passed through Taftan. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa there are reports of 100+ Taftan returned pilgrims being transported to Skardu, under security while at least 15 people in Dera Ismail Khan have tested positive for Covid-19. It is extremely likely that these numbers may increase because they may have infected people along their journey, plus the protocol for transporting Covid-19 patients involves disinfecting the conveyance that bought them to their destination. There has been little to no reports of people disinfecting the conveyance used to take people from one location to another.
However, the absolute elephant in the room remains the quarantine imposed in Dera Ghazi Khan to the returning pilgrims over there. As Dawn.com reported about the Dera Ghazi Khan quarantine, “Most of 780 suspected patients may test positive for virus.” The patients are being kept at a university. The circumstances of their quarantine do not seem the most strict, although that is subject to change. Less than a hundred of them were tested, and when their results start coming in, along with counting the number of people they may have infected while they were unaware of their status; it is likely that Pakistan’s number of infected persons with Covid-19 will push above a thousand.
To determine Pakistan’s true number of cases would require aggressive testing. Does anyone see aggressive Corona virus testing taking place? Despite reports that South Korea got its Corona virus outbreak under control through aggressive testing and the development of a cheap test by NUST, testing for Covid-19 has to become as ubiquitous as polio vaccination, at this stage, for Pakistan to have a hope of getting this outbreak under control. The truth is, that if we try hard enough, and quickly enough, we can.