National and International Issues

The Deadly Third Wave of COVID-19: Combatting through SOPs & Vaccination

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a rampant global health crisis, has now engendered tormented impact on the way we perceive our world today and our everyday lives. Coronaviruses are contagious viruses that can give rise to a range of mild to severe respiratory illnesses. These viruses can mutate expeditiously and configure new types of coronaviruses such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), identified for the first time in Wuhan (China) in December 2019. As SARS-CoV-2 has spread, it has evolved and developed mutations, causing new variants of the disease.

The dominant trait of COVID-19 disease is its high rate of human-to-human transmission. The total number of COVID-19 deaths worldwide has exceeded three million across nearly 200 countries (Ref: BBC World). The statistical trends show that United States, India, and Brazil remain the worst-hit countries. It is rightly said that prevention is better than cure and it is correct for any kind of disease. However, the best prevention from this life threatening virus is self protection by adherence to the SOPs, by taking necessary precautionary measures. These precautionary measures have been emphasized time and again ever since this deadly virus came into existence and these comprise of:

▪ Wearing of mask.
▪ Repeated hand washing.
▪ Maintaining 6 feet social distance.
▪ Good ventilation. 
▪ Avoiding crowded places/closed settings.

These SOPs/precautionary measures are simple, elementary and absolutely practicable, however raising awareness about this life threatening virus through media and by the healthcare professionals, has played a pivotal role in controlling its spread. 
Pakistan has been facing this deadly virus with resilience for the last one year and successfully passed the first two waves and is now in the middle of the third deadliest wave of COVID-19 with over 4000 cases per day and mortality rate between 100-150 per day, which is quite a large number as compared to first and second waves. And surprisingly, now young age group and even children are also in claws of this lethal virus. 
Pakistan’s smart lockdown strategy in the fight against COVID-19 has been successful so far. As smart lockdowns are aimed at restricting maximum number of infected people in a targeted manner to retard/contain the spread of COVID-19 and therefore break the transmission cycle of the disease. In the same context Pakistan established the National Command Operation Center (NCOC) in which Army and government work together. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) also plays an important role to combat the virus. Pakistan’s smart lockdown has been acknowledged globally.
“Pakistan has been a good example for the world with its pandemic related policies. The figures show that Pakistan has done better than other countries in the world and I am happy to observe it with my own eyes” (Volkan Bozkir, United Nations General Assembly President-elect). 
American business magnate Bill Gates acknowledged the smart lockdown strategy, saying it has worked effectively against Coronavirus. The strategy not only prevented further spread of COVID-19 but also protected the livelihoods of hundreds and thousands of poor people in the country. He also said Pakistan has adopted a balanced approach to deal with COVID-19 challenges. (Ref: Gulf News)
Nevertheless, the most appropriate way to escape from this monstrous virus is by stopping its transmission and reducing the opportunity for this virus to mutate. This can be accomplished besides precautionary measures through vaccination as vaccines are also critical in order to prevent and control infectious diseases outbreaks. Vaccines mitigate the risk of getting a disease by working with the body’s natural defenses to augment protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds. Immunization is a global health and development success story in saving millions of lives every year. Vaccines for polio, rabies, meningitis, influenza, small pox, tuberculosis, cholera, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C have been a cure wonder in the world of medicine. Likewise, COVID vaccination is another significant and crucial toll in the battle against COVID-19. A number of vaccines are now being manufactured by different countries of the world namely USA, UK, Russia, China and India. 
Pakistan is receiving Chinese vaccines since February 2020. These are  inactivated virus vaccines and are therefore based on a extensively established technology used in vaccines for diseases like Hepatitis B or influenza. Sinopharm announced that phase three trials of the vaccine showed that it was 79% effective. However, the United Arab Emirates, which approved a Sinopharm vaccine, said the vaccine was 86% effective, according to interim results of its phase three trials. (Ref: COVID: What do we know about China's coronavirus vaccines? BBC China)
China has itself used these vaccines for vaccination of its troops and for its population as well. The spread of the Coronavirus within China has for the most part been contained and life is gradually and successfully returning to normalization.
Imminently Pakistan will be manufacturing its own Coronavirus vaccine in NIH initially in collaboration with China, however Pakistan has so far approved four vaccines for use in the country namely Sinopharm, Cansino, Russia’s Sputnik V and Oxford University’s AstraZeneca. (Ref: Gulf News).
The vaccine doesn’t cause any serious/major side effects rather pitches in making of antibodies against Coronavirus. In Pakistan almost over 2 million people have been vaccinated so far and vaccination process is accelerating every day (Ref: Dawn News, April 28). Ever since vaccination has begun in Pakistan no major side effects have been reported yet. Most importantly, vaccines are highly protective in preventing hospitalization, reducing severity of disease and deaths which are essentially the main goals for everyone in order to combat this infectious virus. But we need to be faster and aim higher to flatten the Coronavirus wave as soon as possible.
As compared to Pakistan, India has been struck badly by COVID, with over 300000 cases per day and the number of daily deaths has increased sharply i.e., over 2000 deaths per day, taking the toll to over 17 million (Ref: CBC News) since the pandemic began. India has also broken the record for the most new Coronavirus cases globally. India has already announced that a ‘double mutant’ variant of Coronavirus had been detected from samples collected from different states of India. (Ref: BBC India, COVID-19 in India: Why second wave is devastating). The situation is disastrous especially in major cities of India, where the sudden spike in cases has brought healthcare system of India to its knees and collapsed badly as hospitals have choked and reached their saturation, having crisis of oxygen supplies, shortage of medicines/vaccines and intensive care units running short of beds. As the people of India are getting swallowed by this pestilent virus, the mortality rate and number of cases are alacritously rising and mass cremations are deluged in India. India under the teeth of second wave has depicted the worst COVID-19 surge in the world.
The situation in India is a “devastating reminder” of what Coronavirus can do. (WHO)
India’s health system has cracked under the weight of COVID. From the current situation of Coronavirus in India it seems like surveillance and control of this pandemic took the back seat and the assumption that it is over was just an assumption and nothing else than a wishful thinking without comprehending what this monster can do. As it’s a lesson for the rest of the world also that careless self protective behavior and confusing and delayed messaging to people can lead to devastating results in any kind of public health emergency. According to WHO the Indian variant is a severe threat for its neighboring countries. 
While China’s success story in combating Coronavirus is commendable as China has shown the world how to contain this virus by combining the 5G technology with medical world as well as other fields like education, economy and industries etc. 5G technology has been a wonder and a key infrastructure in supporting the transformation into a digital and intelligent society. 5G smart medical system is linked with epidemic early warning, pre hospital emergency treatment, remote consultation, intelligent image assisted diagnosis and other medical services. However along with stringent self protective measures and vaccination it is worth mentioning that: 

▪  During this pandemic initial screening of patients was carried out by 5G enabled thermometers that send instant updates. 
▪  A hospital in Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak, was being staffed by robots.
▪ Isolation wards were driven by robots to reduce exposure of healthcare professionals i.e., for serving of food and medicines, performing diagnosis, conducting thermal imaging and for spraying disinfectants
▪ Contact tracing by assigning color codes, green, yellow and red codes on the basis of their travel and medical histories and there were check points in public places for checking of color codes and temperature.
▪ Drones related surveillance in some of the severely affected areas, where humans were at a risk of catching the virus as well as drones transported both medical equipment and patient samples, saving time and enhancing the speed of deliveries while preventing contamination of medical samples.  
▪ Congregation of resources like money, manpower and material in Wuhan.

China has in fact rewritten the Coronavirus pandemic history. Their evidence based protocols have been adopted by the whole world which helped them in flattening the curve in a short span of time.

Pakistan Army is always at the forefront whenever and wherever required by our beloved country. In the face of this unprecedented pandemic yet again for the implementation of COVID SOPs Pakistan Army has been called to help contain COVID-19 spread. As the whole nation stands committed in the fight against COVID, at the same time the nation has always shown a lot of affection and trust for these resilient men and women in khaki. As the world is encountering a global health crisis, it is now time that we as a nation should unite in order to combat COVID and this can only be accomplished if we stringently adhere to precautionary measures and undergo timely vaccination as this will not only reduce the burden on our healthcare professionals but will certainly be a relief for our healthcare system as well. The COVID-19 vaccines that have currently been approved are expected to provide protection against this deadly virus because these vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells. Therefore, changes or mutations in the virus cannot make vaccines completely ineffective.  However, there are clear public health and lifesaving benefits in using the tools we already have, and we must proceed with vaccination. We need to use the tools we have in hand even while we continue to improve those.
We are all safe only if everyone is safe.

Pakistan Army Troops Deployed to Combat the Third Wave of Coronavirus
On April 26, 2021, DG ISPR, Major General Babar Iftikhar held a press conference highlighting the dangers of the “third wave” of Coronavirus pandemic in country. He said that the purpose of this briefing was to inform the nation about deployment of army troops to help civil institutions and law enforcement agencies in implementing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) against the Coronavirus. He warned that the third wave of COVID-19 was "much more dangerous and fatal" and was affecting the whole world, especially the South Asian region. Coronavirus-related deaths were rising fast due to the speed and intensity of the pandemic and putting the healthcare infrastructure under "severe pressure" because of the rapid increase in patients in critical care. 
He said that on April 23, an important meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan which was also attended by the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa where all stakeholders mutually agreed upon NCC’s decisions to control the third wave of Coronavirus. Therefore, keeping the worsening Coronavirus situation in view, to protect the public and their health, Pakistan Army has been called under Article 245 to help civil institutions, according to the directions of the federal government. The enhanced deployment has been done in 16 cities where the positivity rate is very high. These cities include: Islamabad, Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda and Swabi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Bahawalpur and Gujranwala in Punjab; Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh; Quetta in Balochistan and Muzaffarabad in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
He further said that in this testing time, Pakistan Army will use all its capabilities to take every possible step for the protection of citizens and their lives and will go to every corner of Pakistan to ensure the protection of citizens. However, the primary responsibility for the implementation of precautionary measures against the Coronavirus and the law and order situation rests with the civil institutions. The Pakistan Army would fully cooperate with law enforcement agencies as emergency responders to control the spread of the pandemic. DG ISPR told reporters that under article 245 Army teams have been deployed at every administrative level. The teams will be headed by Brigadier and Lieutenant Colonel at the division and district level respectively. He also announced that the army has decided not to claim any internal security allowance during this deployment as it had not been claimed earlier as well. The provincial apex committee’s meetings would be held on a weekly basis to review the COVID-19 high positivity rate in the cities. He called on people to fulfil their individual and collective responsibilities so the public's health and safety could be ensured. He reminded that the cooperation and sense of responsibility of the people since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020 protected the nation from its most dangerous harms as compared to other countries. “Still as a nation we have to show more caution and responsibility than ever before.”

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