Pakistan is in the grip of the third wave of COVID-19. The news of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s affliction with the virus has set off alarm bells not just in the country but all over the world.
According to Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination, Khan has mild symptoms and has self-isolated himself at home. The first lady Bushra Bibi has also been infected.
PM Khan’s affliction news came two days after he received his first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. The timing of the news caused a social media firestorm with many questioning the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine jab that khan received. But the government clarified that Khan’s vaccination is incomplete.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, himself an infectious diseases physician, had to come before the media to put rumor mills to rest. “No vaccine works immediately after being administered. Antibodies can take at least two to three weeks to develop,” he told a press briefing.
“Therefore, it is obvious that the premier’s immunity had not developed when he was vaccinated. It is possible that he was exposed [to the virus] before and it was already present in his body,” added Dr. Sultan.
Khan, 68, has been holding regular and frequent meetings lately, including attending a security conference held in Islamabad that was attended by a large number of people.
The Third Wave Intensifies
The pandemic’s third wave is growing at a frightening pace. According to Sultan the country’s positivity rate has reached 9.5 percent. Officials say the UK variant of the virus is stoking its rapid spread.
“The positivity rate has doubled in the past week. In some cities, it has crossed 10pc. So follow precautionary measures, stay at home when possible, use face masks, maintain a distance of six feet from each other, refrain from visiting crowded places and regularly wash/sanitise your hands,” he said.
Dr. Sultan said the government was set to impose restrictions on direct and indirect flights from certain African and South American countries. Full details of the decision would be announced shortly, he said
Pakistan has reported more than 624,000 COViD-19 cases, with the infection rate spiking at a dangerous pace. The country recorded an increase of 49.1% in the past seven days. The virus has killed close to 14000 people.
Local administrations in Islamabad and several districts in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces have announced school closures and mild precautionary measures.
In KP, nine districts have gone under new restrictions which include early closure of shops. In Islamabad federal capital territory and Punjab, “smart lockdowns” are being enforced.
Anti-vaccine Disinformation and the State of Denial
The country started administering vaccine jabs to the essential workers and the elderly in recent weeks. However, because of massive anti-vaccine disinformation campaigns in the media and social media besides the government’s weak planning, the pace is yawning. Only half a million vaccines have so far been administered.
“I received a list of almost 40 doctors and paramedic staff for vaccine shots, who were duly informed. However, only nine showed up for the first shot,” said a doctor at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
The popular belief among Pakistanis is that the vaccine will cause long-term health harm, including infertility. Neither the government nor the media have displayed visible efforts to challenge and remove such perceptions.
The negative perceptions about the vaccine is not just one reason that is making an overwhelming number of Pakistanis vulnerable. The country’s political elite is among those portraying normalcy in the middle of a pandemic. The majority of the opposition leaders are rarely seen wearing the masks, just like many government officials and ministers. The opposition has held dozens of rallies with utter disregard to social distancing or overall public health precautions. PM Khan and some of his ministers have also been accused of regularly attending public gatherings where social distancing is rarely part of the SOPs.
Also contributing is the belief among many Pakistanis that the country’s climate, and the stronger immune system of the people, especially the poor, has kept the infection rate low. No such clinical evidence is available to prove it correct.
The results are very visible all around. Shops, markets and restaurants are full of people without masks. Huge wedding parties are still being thrown everywhere, without any precautions. Wearing a mask is considered in much of society a sign of weakness or fear. Such social trends, experts fear, could turn the country into a pandemic hot spot, much sooner than many anticipate.
A wave of Sympathy for PM Khan
PM Khan’s admirers and critics, world leaders and influencers, all have joined hands in wishing the prime minister quick and complete recovery. Among the world leaders wishing Khan a quick recovery included his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghanistan’s High Peace Council chief Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, World economic Forum President etc.
Khan’s supporters took to Twitter to share their prayers for his quick recovery. The prime minister has lost little goodwill and support despite his government’s below-par performance in key areas.