The fourth wave and our response

Syed Talat Hussain

The writer is a senior journalist and a leading national broadcaster with years of international media experience.

Pakistan is facing the fourth wave of coronavirus. All government officials have spoken about the possibility of the deadly pandemic hitting our cities and our towns and villages and this time there is an added danger to these apprehensions.

This is the fact that the so called Indian or Delta strain has been detected in some of the major city centers. This strain creates new health challenges. For example, it is difficult to tell from the symbols whether it is seasonal flu or it is COVID-19. A runny nose and sore throat plus cough are what the new strain’s symptoms are. That is why most of the infected don’t even take it seriously.

Another issue is mutation; this strain can beat the existing antibodies and mutate easily. Most important, the Delta strain can spread horizontally at a speed that is matchless. That is why those communities like us where vaccination levels are low are particularly vulnerable to this threat. We are still at the bottom end of countries in terms of our vaccination ratios.

The government has proposed additional Standard Operating Procedures. It is issuing appeals to the public to be particularly careful during eid days since social intermingling increases manifolds during Eid-ul-Azha. Prayer congregations can be managed but social gatherings that follow are hard to regulate since these include issues of privacy and people’s families. You cant raid homes celebrating Eid.

Therefore most of the requests sent out by the government to the public are most likely to fall on deaf ears. That’s where the danger lies: a public that is not listening attentively to official assessments in the middle of a pandemic and which has low immunity and is poorly vaccinated in terms of percentages of population can cause grave danger to itself.

Delt variant in India for instance had a field day in killing people because of these factors. A week before the death peak started in India, their ministers were happily reporting that they had defeated the pandemic. They were planning a post-pandemic future. They did not realise that they were sitting on the landmine that was about to go off and create unprecedented tragedy and turmoil.

We are fortunate that we have not faced a grim situation like in India. Our death and infection rates are very low and the first three waves have come and gone without wreaking havoc. We hope the situation stays this way during the fourth wave as well. We pray that the pandemic again misses us as its target. However, we cannot take things for granted. We cannot say it is over until it is actually over and that won’t be the case for at least another two years—-considering the rate at which we are vaccinating the public.

What should be done in the meantime? A couple of things:

– There should be an official ban on declaring “victories” against the pandemic. We have heard in the past week contradictory statements from officials saying “we have done so well”, and then warning “ the fourth wave is upon us.” This confuses the public which does not know what to believe and what not to.

– SOPs like masks and social distancing should be made part of consistent official advice and conduct. All govt officials and ministers and advisors should always wear a mask so that they can lead by example.

-Vaccination campaigns have to be accelerated. If we claim that we have solved the forex problem we ought to spend some cash and book vaccine orders quickly.

-Make pandemic education part and parcel of all educational and promotional activities.

-Take businesses and commercial enterprises into confidence on the changing nature of the pandemic threat so that they can make quick adjustments when the need arises instead of putting pressure on the government and asking for exemptions.

Make no mistake about it: Covid-19 has become a civilisation changing the global dynamic. It has impacted systems around the world as much as the two world wars did or 9/11 events did. We have to think long-term. Planning from “wave-to-wave” is not the best way to deal with it.