Pakistan faces a sharply rising second wave of Covid-19 infections, as the nation’s daily tally of new cases has this week topped 2,500 for the first time in four months.
The public’s failure to abide by precautions, the colder weather and the cyclical pattern of respiratory infections have let the virus make a comeback after the country avoided a severe outbreak over the summer.
Wards are filling and hospitals are braced for staff shortages, doctors told the Telegraph, while a senior police official in the capital, Islamabad, this week warned cases were “skyrocketing”.
Some officials and experts fear the winter wave will be deadlier than the summer surge, in a country which has so far reported just over 7,500 deaths and nearly 370,000 cases.
“I think we may be going in a worse trajectory this time,” said Dr Faisal Mahmood, an associated professor of infectious disease at Karachi’s Aga Khan University. “We know that the the virus spreads exponentially and we have seen the sort of rise that’s happening.”
Pakistan appeared on the brink of a runaway outbreak in the early summer, only for cases to then fall back unexpectedly. Health officials have admitted they cannot fully explain the reprieve. The respite has fed complacency.
Prof Ajmad Taqweem, a former physician at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital, said the infections had never gone away and a reservoir of coronavirus from the summer meant the new wave was mounting quickly.
“If the first wave starts with one case, the second starts with 50,000 so is naturally more severe. It’s the beginning and it’s worse,” he said.
The unexpected path of the summer wave has made predictions difficult, doctors said, but several thought the second wave could potentially be deadlier than the first in Pakistan.
Colder weather has forced people inside into closer proximity than during the hot summer, while drier winter air is thought to be more favourable for the virus. Autumn brings the traditional wedding season, and marriage halls holding parties and ceremonies have already emerged as a key factor in new infections.
The arrival of the second wave has also coincided with a febrile political climate and a string of opposition rallies, protest marches and campaign gatherings attended by tens of thousands of people.
The daily tally of cases has roughly doubled since the start of November. The share of tests coming back positive is also rising and currently hovers around six per cent.
“If this situation continues, we would be left with no beds and hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients,” warned Dr Zubair Zahir chairman of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Doctors Association.
“We want complete lockdown in the hotspots of the Covid-19, otherwise, the situation would slip out of our hands and there will be a complete disaster,” he said.
Pakistan’s young population, robust immune systems and a government policy of locking down hotspots were all been credited with sparing the country the worst of the outbreak over the summer.
Neighbouring India was harder hit because its population was more densely housed in large cities and more mobile, epidemiologists suggested.
International health officials said the exact cause of Pakistan’s escape was difficult to determine, but while official death and infection counts were an underestimate of the true picture, the fall in cases in July and August was genuine. The country’s Covid wards were largely empty in late summer. That is now changing quickly.