ISLAMABAD - The United Nations has commended Pakistan’s gains in the fight against the coronavirus but warned complacency during the coming Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha could lead to a new surge in cases.
The warning comes a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan was among the few countries in the world that have largely controlled the pandemic.
The outbreak hit the county of 220 million people in late February and the number of confirmed cases has since surpassed 275,000, including nearly 5,900 deaths. Almost 90% of patients have recovered, and COVID-19 infections have considerably dropped over the past month.
On Tuesday, health officials said there were 936 new cases and 23 deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, representing a decline of about 86%. Pakistan had a peak of 6,825 cases on June 14.
“There is an improvement in the COVID situation in the country,” Aida Girma, UNICEF representative in Pakistan, told an online public event in Islamabad. “Across all indicators we are seeing improvement, and this is very encouraging. But it is too soon to celebrate. We can’t be complacent.”
The UNICEF country chief urged the government to redouble efforts ahead of the Eid festivities starting later this week to ensure the gains Pakistan has made in the past few weeks are not lost.
“We are at a critical juncture of the current pandemic, witnessing a significant decrease in the number of cases, and no way can afford slackness or complacence, as was observed during Eid-al-Fitr days”, Zafar Mirza, a special assistant to the Pakistani prime minister, told the online forum.
Mirza was referring to the Muslim festival in May when the government relaxed lockdown restrictions on the eve of the festivities and the number of cases shot up, putting pressure on hospitals in Pakistan and prompting severe criticism of the government.
Authorities have tightened lockdown restrictions ahead of Saturday’s Eid celebrations, banning visits to public places, restaurants and closing shopping malls in parts of Pakistan.
In his nationally televised speech on Monday, Prime Minister Khan urged Pakistanis to continue to strictly adhere to official guidelines on maintaining social distancing, avoiding big gatherings and using masks during Eid celebrations to help sustain the national gains against the pandemic.
“The world is acknowledging our smart lockdown strategy that has led to a gradual decline in our cases…But if we are not cautious during Eid… cases might rise again and the situation can worsen,” Khan said, citing the example of Australia and Spain where the virus cases had spiked after initially falling.
"It could prove harmful for our aged and ailing citizens and our economy as well,” the prime minister said.
UNICEF’s Girma noted that the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan had disrupted the provision of essential health services for women and children, including immunization services.
“Over 40 million children had missed out on their polio vaccination since the outbreak (of the coronavirus) started,” she said.
Pakistan, one of the two countries in the world along with Afghanistan where polio remains endemic, resumed a national polio vaccination campaign last week after about four months of suspension.