ISLAMABAD          -              The National Command and Operation Center meeting with various journalists present, including Rameeza Majid Nizami owner and Chief Editor of daily Nawaiwaqt and daily The Nation, was co-chaired by Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives, Asad Umar, and Lt General Hamood Uz Zaman Khan, Chief Coordinator of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).

The NCOC has become a living example of civilian and military combined efforts – demonstrating in its operations more visibly than ever before seen, the tremendous capacity of the state and the professionalism of Pakistan’s top official leading the fight against COVID-19.

Minister Planning, Asad Umar during his comments explained that a variety of data analysis had revealed that the toll of COVID-19 in Pakistan has been “way below original estimates”. Nobody quite knows why, and only years of research will be able to give an answer. The trend has been the same in Bangladesh, as well as some North African Countries. It would be mere speculation to attribute what the causes might be, which could range from a natural resistance of DNA, or increased immunity due to an unpredictable purity of food and water supplies, latitude, and longitude of the countries in question, etc.

He said there was no evidence that the spread was accelerating, instead, all previous predictions and data are now beginning to converge around new findings, that our infection rate is way lower than what we had originally thought it would be.

He said that depending on which model was being read, the peak was expected around June or July. Going forward the stringent measures to lockdown movement in cities would be revisited, he said. “We have stricter SOPs than Europe even”. Guidelines for Eid movement would be issued soon as well, to allow people time to adjust accordingly to them.

Talking about criticism of the decision to allow mosques to remain open, he said that in terms of a pure health hazard, it was nowhere near as significant as the amount of coverage it had gotten. Dr Zafar Mirza added that during the meeting with Ulema it was made plain by Ulema that mosques would remain open, The next step, therefore, was to determine the SOPs which would allow them to do so safely. He said if proper SOPs are followed to the letter, risks of infection are “very low”.

 

In response to a question on the accuracy of COVID-19 tests, Minister Planning Asad Umar said that 70% accuracy is the gold standard of COVID-19 tests globally, and the instant tests accuracy results are even lower, which was the reason why the NCOC does not prefer them. 70% accuracy is the best possible standard that can be used.

 

Minister Asad Umar briefed that three priorities related to COVID-19 and its direct and indirect impact needed to be understood. One, to continue to try to use non-pharmaceutical measures to control the spread. He explained that even in the NCOC meeting itself, no one shook hands upon entry, the number of people were less than they would be otherwise, and so on.

 

Two, tremendous economic cost. The huge economic disruption has led to a “very, very substantial impact on people’s lives”. One-third of Pakistan’s population is below the poverty line, and the same amount is just above the poverty line. Both segments are thus highly vulnerable. The health impact has so far been less, but the disastrous economic impact has been far more, Asad Umar explained. He compared that to the developed countries where COVID-19 has had more health impact and less economic impact.

 

Three, to help the most vulnerable sections of society, a massive surge in relief activities has been organized. The Ehsaas programme has already targeted 12 million families, out of which more than half have already received funds. Similarly, a programme under the Ministry of Industries was set to provide relief for millions more.

 

A Test Trace and Quarantine (TTQ) approach is being aggressively followed and minutely monitored.

The TTQ approach focuses on building concentric circle around suspected COVID-19 contact points. This is a minute, and attention intensive approach, with a high probability of catching every possible contact of COVID-19 from a potential patient and thus inhibit its spread.

 

Dr. Faisal Sultan, Infectious Diseases expert, and Prime Minister’s Focal Person on COVID-19, said that the TTQ approach’s “enforcement has limitations”, and the help of the media would be needed to notify the public of its various aspects.

 

Dr Zafar Mirza said that infection in frontline workers was a cause of great concern; and while our infection rate was vastly below that of even developed countries, the protection and support of healthline workers was of paramount importance. The National Disaster Management Authority was supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals directly. In addition to this provincial governments are also supplying PPE equipment. The supply chain is also further being strengthened. “PPEs are being grossly and inappropriately being used, leading to shortages for healthworkers”. Dr Zafar Mirza said the infection rate of healthcare workers in developed countries was around 10%, but in Pakistan, the percentage was “way below that”.

 

Asad Umar in answer to a question said that there is 100% certainty that the first reported case in Pakistan could have been at the start of the year, or even late last year, but it was impossible to determine when exactly. He also said that the higher mortality numbers in KP are being debated and the reasons for the same are not yet determined, but the causes of high mortality among COVID-19 patients are being examined.