ISLAMABAD - The country on Tuesday reported 105 more deaths of coronavirus patients during the last 24 hours.

According to officials, the death toll from the virus stands at 2172 with 105 deaths reported over the last twenty-four hours.

At least 4,646 new coronavirus cases surfaced in the country over the last twenty-four hours taking the total tally to 108,317. These include 40,819 in Punjab, 39,555 Sindh, 14,006 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 6788 Balochistan, 5785 Islamabad, 952 Gilgit-Baltistan and 412 in Azad Kashmir. At least 35,018 patients have so far recovered from the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said that Pakistan didn’t meet any prerequisite condition for ending the lockdown, while an intermittent lockdown across the country and increased number of testing is required to mitigate the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

This assessment was made by the WHO country representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala in a letter written to the provincial health minister of Punjab Dr. Yasmin Rashid.

The WHO has recommended two weeks on and off intermittent lockdown across the country and an increase in the testing capacity beyond 50,000 tests per day.

The letter written to the Punjab Health Minister said that WHO country office Pakistan would like to take this opportunity to appreciate the efforts of the government of Punjab in response to COVID-19 and states that this pandemic has overwhelmed national health systems around the globe with substantial demand for health service, human resources and supplies.

Pakistan reported the first case of COVID-19 on 26th February 2020 and at the present the country has the total number of 98,943 cases with 2002 deaths (CFR 2.02%).

The pandemic has reached almost all districts of Pakistan while the major cities contribute the highest number of cases nationally (Karachi 33.72%, Lahore 18.75%, Peshawar 5.31%, Quetta 5.2% and Rawalpindi 3.35%).

Government intervention of 12th April 2020 detailing social distancing measures including movement restriction, closure of schools, and business, international travel restriction and geographical area restriction were instituted with the aim of limiting the spread of the disease.

Nevertheless, after partial relaxation of the measures on 1st may 2020 then followed by complete relaxation on 22nd May 2020, the rate of spread of COVID-19 increased.

WHO recommends that for every government that wants to start lifting restrictions, the following six conditions must be met:

Disease transmission is under control, health systems can “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”, hotspot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes.

Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures, the risk of importing new cases “can be managed,” and communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under new normal. As of today Pakistan does not meet any of the prerequisite conditions for opening the lock down.

The WHO letter says that Pakistan’s virus positivity rate is 24% (Above the required level of 5 %), the surveillance system (identify, test, isolate, care for the ill including identification and follow-up of contacts and quarantining) is weak.

There is also a limited quantity to provide critical care (Only 751 ventilators are allocated for COVID-19) and the population is not ready to adapt to change in behavior (hand washing, respiratory etiquettes and social distancing).

It further said that Pakistan has been ranked among the top 10 countries around the globe in reporting the highest number of new cases. To that effect Pakistan needs to take strategic decisions to either tighten or loosen public health measures while ensuring ensure economic prosperity, human rights and food security.

These difficult decisions will require the need to balance response directly to COVID-19 which includes intermittent lockdowns of targeted areas (District, towns, section of town or village) as a first option and should be dealt on priority basis, while simultaneously engaging in strategic planning and coordinated action to maintain essential health service delivery, mitigating the risk of health collapse.

WHO strongly recommends that the government adapts the two weeks off and two weeks on strategy as it offers the smallest curve. Also recommends strengthening all public health measures such as quarantine, isolation, physical distancing and contact tracing.

Given due consideration to the test positivity rate, developing testing capacity beyond 50,000 tests/day is extremely important.