After vaccination programmes rolled out, a new far more infectious strand has emerged, the Delta variant, which spreads far more easily from person to person, increasing infections and hospitalisations among the unvaccinated. When the world thought the time of lockdowns was over, cases, particularly of the Delta strain, have increased, calling for improvisations of an approach towards the pandemic, post-vaccine and post-Delta. The same is the case in Pakistan—cases are at an all-time high for 2021, and provinces are in disagreement about a uniform policy. It is alarming that the province with the most cause for concern is one where the centre and the provincial government cannot come together to devise an approach to halt the rise. Sindh reported 2,862 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours—up from 2,797 a day earlier, making it the highest daily caseload since June 19, 2020.
That the Delta variant of the coronavirus has ravaged Sindh, especially Karachi, more than the rest of the country, and that something extraordinary needs to be done about it, is not in dispute. But perhaps, just shutting everything down as a reflex action might not be the best way. It could, in fact, even be said that such steps signify a failure of sorts on part of authorities to successfully implement more subtle yet effective tactics like strictly enforcing Special Operating Procedures (SOPs) and social distancing protocols in all public spaces. Those, along with speeding up and expanding the vaccination drive would and should have been preferred.
That a leading doctor in Karachi’s leading hospital complained just the other day that literally none of his many patients with the Delta virus had received even one shot of their vaccinations only goes to prove this point. Yet the Sindh government still opted for a nine-day lockdown, which could, and most likely would, drive a knife through the heart of the province’s and the country’s fragile economy. That explains why businesses are up in arms about the shutdown even though Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, for some reason, said that everybody understood and promised to stand by his decision.
A lockdown is far from an ideal situation, but it appears that the Sindh government’s decision is rooted in epidemiology. The Delta variant is rapidly spreading across the country. On average, one patient transmits the virus to five persons. In some districts of Sindh, the Delta detection ratio has reached 33pc — proof of how exponentially this variant spreads and what it can mean for the country’s limited healthcare infrastructure. If the Sindh government does not manage to slow down the spread now, the coming weeks will see a collapse of hospitals.