Health
India eases coronavirus restrictions at the deadliest time, Pakistan urged to return to lockdown

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - World Healthcare Journal

South Asia continues to be badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with India, Pakistan, and Iran all seeing rising cases and worsening situations.

Yesterday, India experienced its deadliest day in the pandemic so far, recording more than 9,996 new cases and 357 deaths, bringing the total number in the nation to 286,579 - making it currently the 5th worst affected nation in the world, surpassing Spain and Italy.

However, last week the government made the decision to end “lockdown 4” - the second strictest stage of lockdown - in areas which are not classed as “containment zones” where there are clusters of positive cases.

This drew confusion amongst the Indian public and prominent figures, questioning why such a move was made despite the continuing rise in day-by-day cases. Rahul Gandhi, Member of the Indian National Congress and Parliament, expressed exasperation at the move amidst the escalating cases, inciting "#FailedLockdown" to trend on Twitter.

Furthermore, healthcare capacity within the nation is decreasing fast - half of the capital’s 8,200 allocated Covid-19 beds are already full, and officials are expecting more than 500,000 cases within Delhi alone by the end of July, according to AP News.

Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, expressed his fears about a surge in cases to AP.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” he says. “Until the government increases its spending on healthcare, things won’t change. A lot of people will die. ”  

“But, if some strong policy decisions are made not only in Delhi but across India, we can minimize the damage. ” 

In Pakistan, the WHO has made the unconventional move of insisting that the nation returns to lockdown, advising that the country implements an intermittent lockdown method - on a two-week on, two-week off basis.

The government has resisted a nationwide lockdown since the initial outbreak, with worries surrounding the economic damage that such a move would cause. Instead, each province within the nation announced ‘local’ lockdowns where cases were spiking - which kept cases relatively low until mid-May.

As of last week, however, the government announced it would be lifting many of these lockdowns - despite health officials recording record numbers of daily cases which are showing no signs of slowing.

This led to the WHO Pakistan Chief, Palitha Mahipala, to issue a letter to all regional governments within the nation.

"As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the pre-requisite conditions for opening the lockdown," reads the letter. “WHO strongly recommends the government adopt the two weeks off and two weeks on strategy. ” 

The pre-requisite conditions to begin easing lockdown include having disease transmission “under control”; implementing track & trace techniques; minimizing hotspot risk in vulnerable places such as care homes; establishing preventive measures in essential places such as schools; being prepared for imported cases; and ensuring that communities are educated, engaged and empowered to live under “a new normal”.

Additionally, Iran may now be experiencing the dreaded “second-wave” of the pandemic. On Sunday, the nation recorded the largest single-day surge so far, with more than 3,574 confirmed cases - surpassing the previous record of 3,186 in late March.

When Iran’s cases began to steadily decrease, the government started easing lockdown over the months of April and May, whilst increasing testing capacity. Many experts feel this easing has created a second wave as more asymptomatic cases are being found.

"The main reason for the rising numbers is that we have started identifying those who have no or mild symptoms,” says Mohammad-Mehdi Gouya, Chief Epidemiologist at Pakistan’s Health Ministry.

However, this is likely not the sole reason why cases are once again on the rise. A survey cited last week by Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi states that public engagement with social distancing has dropped dramatically - from 90 per cent to 40 per cent.

Furthermore, engagement and belief in self-isolation have also dropped from 86 per cent to just 32 per cent, which he regards as “a calamity”.

"People seem to think the coronavirus is over," said Health Minister Saeed Namaki at a press conference last week.

"The outbreak is not over yet and at any moment it may come back stronger than before."


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