As coronavirus cases surge past the 7,000 mark in both Sindh and Punjab, respective governments are preparing to begin community or sample testing. This is the need of the hour because with cases rising at a faster pace now, the provincial governments must ramp up their testing efforts, which will allow them to gain greater insight into identifying clusters and take precautions accordingly. Keeping in view the current numbers, community surveillance and smart sampling should begin as soon as possible. As observed in other countries, it can be quite challenging to contain transmissions after a certain threshold is crossed.

So far, Pakistan has been surprisingly successful in preventing widespread transmission despite a large population and limited resources. But grave economic realities have forced the government to ease the lockdown. The pandemic is going to take a heavy toll on the economy, and recovery may take several years. If the economy does not reopen, millions of people, especially the most vulnerable in our society, stand to lose everything. This is why the government decided in favour of gradually reopening the country. Now, as business activity rises and interactions become more frequent, there is greater risk of cases surging. Despite SOPs and guidelines, it is rather challenging to ensure that everyone is fully compliant. And it is not just callousness that may be responsible; the virus is just highly transmissible, it can survive on surfaces for days and carriers can remain asymptomatic.

In the days ahead, respective governments will find that early preparation in terms of testing kits, PPE availability, quarantine centres and hospital preparedness will prove crucial in coping with the fallout. As a vaccine is unavailable and will remain so for a long period of time, identification and containment through surveillance and rapid testing should be prioritised.