Those who understate the danger of the coronavirus epidemic ignore the disastrous impact that the spread of the virus can have on the healthcare system of a country. Widespread transmission of the virus leads to an overburdening of the healthcare system, something which the already weak medical infrastructure of developing countries cannot afford.

This outcome is precisely what we are seeing now. As the government struggles to enforce a lockdown, the surge in coronavirus cases across the country is already leading to shortages in hospitals. According to Dr Qaisar Sajjad, the Secretary-General of the Pakistan Medical Association, there is 75 to 80 percent occupancy of ICU beds, while private hospitals have stopped taking COVID-19 patients on ventilators. There is a very real fear that if the number of coronavirus cases reaches 25,000, as predicted, public hospitals will not have ventilators for seriously ill patients. In government hospitals, even where there are enough ICUs, there is a lack of specialists who can manage ICU patients.

COVID-19 has caused enormous impediments for healthcare systems across the world. We have seen strong, well-functioning healthcare systems, as in Italy, crumble and reduced to a situation where doctors had to deem which patients were worthy of intensive care due to the extreme shortage of resources. Having seen the struggle of these countries, Pakistan needs to start capacity-building now in order to prevent our hospitals from having to take this sort of distributive justice approach. Late arrival of patients to hospitals, less testing and non-availability of intensive care specialists are some of the top causes for the surge in COVID-19 fatalities – this means the government has to double down on tracing coronavirus cases early to prevent further spread.

This is a make-or-break time for Pakistan and we cannot afford to take it lightly. The signs are already there – KP became the first province to exceed 100 COVID-19 deaths.