The presence of coronavirus in sewage sites found through polio surveillance is both a breakthrough and a stark warning to the authorities and public alike. The existence of the virus in sewage sites will assist experts to locate asymptomatic patients in different areas and trace their movements. The finding will also enable them to trace the presence of the virus in a given locality. Now that it has been confirmed that the virus can be found in sewage, concerns that recent research expressed on the potential spread of COVID-19 through the faecal-oral route must be addressed immediately.

The new finding means that there is a greater need to ensure proper water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities to curb the spread of coronavirus. The government needs to give serious consideration on how to include this research in its battle against the pandemic. Considering the new findings regarding the spread of the pandemic and the fact that access to WASH services varies across the country, the government must set new guidelines for the purpose as well.

Unfortunately, in the past, the government has not adequately focused on water and sanitation despite knowing too well that unsafe WASH services can cause severe diseases. At the national level, policy and plans are weak or absent, and effective action is undermined by institutional fragmentation and poor coordination within and outside government. Allocations within federal budget – particularly for sanitation – are low.

Even today, 21 percent of people in rural areas of Pakistan practice open defecation. The challenging task is not only ending open defecation and providing facilities but also changing community behaviour. The state needs to shift the emphasis from improving access to sanitation to enhancing the quality and safety of WASH infrastructure and the safe management of human waste. Focusing on hitherto unaddressed deficiencies is urgent if the government is committed to containing the spread of the virus any further and improving the levels of healthcare in general.