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Govt considers resuming lockdown

ISLAMABAD: With the number of coronavirus cases and deaths increasing and people having severely violated standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Covid-19 during the Eid holidays, the government is considering resuming the lockdown across the country.

Moreover, after a study suggesting that hydroxychloroquine can increase mortality among Covid19 patients, Pakistan has decided to suspend clinical trial of the medicine as a cure of the disease.

On the other hand, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal on Tuesday claimed that there were ample stocks of ventilators, intensive care unit (ICU) beds and other equipment to combat the deadly virus.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths was increasing. `Severe rush is being observed in markets and public places and it feels like the public has been assuming that the virus has been eradicated. The diseaseis continuously spreading and we are not aware that for how long it would continue. I want to warn that it will convert into a tragedy if we do not behave with responsibility,` he said.

The SAPM said that though the number of cases across the country was less than different estimates, it should not be forgotten that it was continuously increasing. `We have issued SOPs for businesses, mosques, etc, but it is observed that the masses are not following them. After Eid holidays, we will again analyse the situation and, if required, we will reconsider the relaxation. I appeal to the masses to play their role in stopping the spread of the disease,` he added.

It is worth mentioning that Sindh had imposed the restrictions on March 16, followed by Punjab and other provinces. However, the Centre had initially relaxed the lockdown for some businesses, including the construction industry, and announced further relaxations during Ramazan on traders` demand.

Clinical trial of medicine The government has decided to suspend the clinical trial of malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure of Covid19. The decision has been taken on the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On Tuesday, Dr Mirza tweeted: `The Executive Group of theSolidarity Trial, representing 10 countries, met on Saturday and has agreed to review by temporarily suspending clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19 patients. High mortality has been reported! Talking to Dawn, the SAPM said that a few hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan had been allowed to start clinical trial of the medicine as a possible cure of Covid-19. `I have directed the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) to pause the trials due to developments at the international level. Notices will be issued on Wednesday (today) and trial will be allowed only if it proves that the medicine can be used as a cure,` he said.

In March this year, US President Donald Trump had claimed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the use of `very powerful` drug chloroquine to treat Covid-19. He said the medicine had shown very encouraging results and would be available in the market almost immediately.

However, the FDA issued a statement saying it had not approved the medicine for use against Covid-19 and was studying its use for this purpose. However, due to the statement of Mr Trump, irrational use of the drug started across the globe as a prophylactic treatment.

Later, Pakistan also allowed a few hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to carry out clinical trial of the medicine.

Ventilators, equipment NDMA Chairman Afzal, while speaking at a press conference, appealed to people not to pay heed to rumours about shortage of hospital equipment and claimed that the country had ample stocks of ventilators, ICU beds and other equipment.

`We have 4,200 ventilators in public and private sector hospitals and there are 500 ventilators in hospitals of the armed forces. Out of 4,200 ventilators, 1,350 have been reserved for the patients of Covid-19, but there are 128 patients on ventilators. At the moment less than 50 per cent ventilators are being used in most of the cities. Peshawar has 75 ventilators of which 36 are being used,` he said.

The NDMA chief said that according to estimates, 2,000 ventilators would be required by the end of next month. However, he said, more ventilators were being arranged from different countries.

`There are 183 ventilators and 110 portable ventilators at our warehouses. We will get 584 ICU beds and 200 portable ventilators by May 31. Masses should know that we care about them and have been arranging more equipment. The United States has donated 200 ventilators, of which 100 will be received by June 1. We have decided to provide 30 ventilators eachtoPeshawar andKarachi,15eachtoBalochistan and Lahore and 10 ventilators to Faisalabad,` he added.

Mr Afzal said that there were 10,944 ICU beds in 365 public sector hospitals, which were providing treatment to the Covid-19 patients, but currently around 20pc or 2,211 ICU beds were being used. He said that 52 private hospitals had 679 ICU beds.

`Moreover, public sector hospitals have 72,000 beds and 52 private hospitals have over 6,000 beds which can be converted into ICU beds if required.

Failing to get beds, patients and their relatives can contact helpline 111-157-157 and their issue will be addressed by our team members,` he added.

The NDMA chief also said people had violated the SOPs for Covid-19 during Eid holidays and asked them to follow the guidelines issued by the health ministry.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior Rehman Malik has expressed concern over the recent increase in the number of coronavirus cases. He feared that the country might witness a drastic increase in the number of positive cases of coronavirus in the days to come as after the easing of lockdown before Eid, neither the people were observing social distancing nor was the government implementing the SOPs.

He said that markets before Eid were full with violations of SOPs, alleging that the government had failed to implement the Supreme Court order for maintaining social distancing.

Senator Malik said Pakistan had now become a `bank with a rich deposit of coronavirus` during Eid holidays because of f reely transfer of the virus.

He said people were roaming f reely in markets with no idea that they were actually buying death for themselves and their loved ones. Police also failed to control the rush and flow of people in markets, he regretted.