Testing not the only way to gauge decline in cases: Zafar

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza has said that when all the trends regarding the novel coronavirus in Pakistan are showing improvement, one must not assess everything through less number of tests being conducted across the country.

“I believe we should not put everything on number of tests. We have passed from spike in mid-June. The testing is a factor, but it should be considered that the number of suspects has been reduced. We have collected data from hospitals and majority of them, apart from a few in Sindh, have told us that less number of people have been visiting hospitals,” said the PM’s aide on health affairs while talking to Media

Of the 264,593 cases reported since the outbreak of the highly contagious virus in the country, 204,276 patients have fully recovered, indicating that active cases have dropped to 60,317. The country reported 1,777 cases and 47 deaths during the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 264,593 and death toll to 5,591.

However, the government has been facing criticism from opposition parties for a significant drop in number of daily tests, despite the death of more than 2,200 patients since June 20. The government had increased the number of daily tests to 34,000 last month, but the number of tests per day suddenly fell in the last week of June and on July 18 around 18,000 tests were conducted across the country, triggering scepticism about the actual tally of cases.

Data shows fall in Covid-19 cases, but questions persist over its reliability

Talking to Media, the PM’s aide said there was no reason to doubt that the spread of the virus had slowed down when all indicators such as number of admitted patients in hospitals and those on oxygenated beds and ventilators had declined. He said even number of deaths had declined.

However, he added, it was correct that a discussion was under way to ascertain whether it was “premature optimism” or “permanent decline” in cases.

“Last week we considered that why the number of tests was reduced as there was no issue regarding capacity of tests. The reply was that the number of suspects has reduced at hospitals and private labs. Though we had a consensus that the number of tests should be increased it was also observed that around 40 to 50 per cent tests are being done through contact tracing policy which is called tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ). The number of tests would have been further reduced if we lacked TTQ policy [under which all the contacts of patients are tested],” he said.

The PM’s aide said that a combination of nine factors turned around the situation in Pakistan. “We started lockdown much earlier on 13th March and it is still going on as restaurants, wedding halls, educational institutions, etc are still closed. The sectors that have been opened are being monitored and fines are imposed for violations. Moreover, contact tracing was improved through TTQ policy which was introduced on April 24. Wearing of mask has been declared mandatory and we are focusing on hygiene,” he said.

Dr Mirza said the immunity level, change in nature of virus as well as temperature could be some of the reasons behind the reduction in cases, but there was no doubt that patients’ management had also improved. “Initially healthcare workers were not aware that how they should deal with the patients and avoid chances of spread of virus, as the disease was new for everyone, but now patient management has been improved and they have learnt that what works and what does not,” the PM’s aide said.

“I believe that the NCOC has performed marvellously due to which coordination among the federal and provincial governments has improved. Moreover, we gathered data on a daily bases and tried to devise strategies as per situation due to which the situation improved. I also believe that an X-factor arises in pandemics due to which diseases are controlled,” he said.

Asked why cases were increasing in India where the situation has become out of control with around 30,000 cases being confirmed daily, Dr Mirza said India was much more complex, bigger and more diverse country as compared to Pakistan. “India started lockdown bit late and then suddenly withdrew it due to which their situation worsened. How­ever, we had strategy and we successful implemented it,” he said.

While talking to Dawn, federal Minister for Plann­ing, Development and Spec­ial Initiatives Asad Umar said that Covid-19 cases had been on the decline, the disease could spread again over Eidul Azha as people might not follow the health guideline for shopping.

“I am not worried about Eid prayers as people follow the SOPs during prayers. I fear that the people may not follow the SOPs at cattle markets and in others markets during Eid shopping as they did the same on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr,” he said.

Mr Umar said he would suggest the masses to opt for ‘collective sacrifice’.