Sharp uptick in coronavirus infections in Pakistan

NIH reports no death for sixth consecutive day: Positivity ratio shoots up to 0.93%: China’s health system reels by Omicron hits: US withdraws non-essential staff from Shanghai

By: News Desk
Published: 09:42 AM, 9 Apr, 2022
Sharp uptick in coronavirus infections in Pakistan
Caption: A Covid vaccine and testing site is set up outside of Yankee Stadium on the Opening Day of the season for the Yankees in New York City.–AFP
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There was a sharp uptick in the number of coronavirus infections in Pakistan during the last 24 hours, however there was no death reported for the sixth consecutive day.

The pared-down rate of infections saw a sudden rise during the last 24 hours (Friday) as Pakistan recorded 238 new Covid-19 cases, almost double as compared to the previous day, showed the figures released by the National Institute of Health Pakistan on Saturday morning.

As per the latest NIH data, the death toll from the coronavirus remained unchanged for the sixth continuous day at 30,361, whereas the number of total infections now stood at 1,526,472 after adding the fresh 238 cases.

During the last 24 hours (Friday), 25,383 tests were conducted throughout Pakistan whereas the positivity ratio stood at 0.93 percent. The number of patients in critical care was 272.

During the last 24 hours (Friday), as many as 79 patients have recovered from the virus whereas the total recoveries stood at 1,486,729. As of Saturday, the total count of active cases in the country was recorded at 9,382.

As many as 576,291 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Sindh, 505,332 in Punjab, 219,238 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 135,119 in Islamabad, 35,480 in Balochistan, 43,294 in Azad Kashmir and 11,718 in Gilgit-Baltistan.

As many as 13,558 individuals have lost their lives to the pandemic in Punjab so far, 8,097 in Sindh, 6,322 in KP, 1,023 in Islamabad, 792 in Azad Kashmir, 378 in Balochistan and 191 in Gilgit Baltistan.

 

China's health system faces raft of challenges as Omicron hits

China is battling its biggest spike in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with millions under lockdown and the healthcare system feeling the pressure.

One of the last countries sticking to a zero-Covid strategy, China aims to stamp out every infection with strict lockdowns and by sending all cases to secure facilities.

That is placing a strain on China's already under-pressure medical system, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant rapidly moves through the population.

Here are some of China's key challenges in the fight against Covid:

- Vaccination rates -

Beijing says more than 1.2 billion people in China had received two doses of a Covid vaccine by mid-March -- nearly 90 percent of the population.

It has also launched a booster campaign but more than half of the population has yet to receive a third shot.

A major challenge is protecting the elderly, with only around half of Chinese people aged above 80 double-vaccinated and fewer than a fifth having received a booster.

Among the over-60s, just over half have received a third shot.

Officials have launched a fresh push to encourage older people to get a third dose, after hospitals in Hong Kong were overwhelmed by a wave of severe cases -- mostly unvaccinated elderly patients.

China is using homegrown vaccines and has not approved any foreign-made shots, but it has given "conditional" approval to Pfizer's Covid-19 drug Paxlovid.

Chinese vaccines have shown a lower rate of efficacy in studies compared with many foreign jabs.

However, several Chinese vaccine makers have recently been given the go-ahead for clinical trials on a domestically-made mRNA Covid jab -- the same technology as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots.

- Hospitals stretched -

China's healthcare system was understaffed and struggling to cope with its huge and ageing population even before the pandemic.

According to the National Health Commission, China has only 2.9 general practitioners per 10,000 people. Britain has around the same number for every 1,000 people.

Some Chinese regions are woefully under-resourced.

In Jilin province, site of a recent Covid cluster, authorities said there were only 22,880 hospital beds for a population of 24 million.

Peking University researchers have warned that China could suffer a "colossal outbreak" that would quickly overwhelm its medical system if the authorities relaxed restrictions to a similar degree as in Europe and the United States.

It would likely lead to hundreds of thousands of new cases a day, the researchers said.

- Urban-rural divide -

Despite huge reductions in rural poverty, there are still significant differences in access to healthcare between the countryside and cities.

Much of China's wealth, equipment and expertise is based in top-tier cities where richer residents can choose between a range of hospitals including international clinics.

According to a National Health Commission report last year, China had only 1.6 medical workers per 1,000 people in rural areas and just 1.5 hospital beds.

Although nearly 40 percent of the population lives in the countryside, rural China had a total of only 1.4 million hospital beds.

Rural Chinese who migrate to cities for work also struggle to access healthcare in the cities due to red tape.

- Maintaining 'zero-Covid' -

Despite being China's most developed city, Shanghai has descended into crisis as authorities scramble to find enough beds for people who test positive.

Authorities have said 130,000 new beds are ready or under construction at makeshift venues.

About 40,000 beds are being set up at Shanghai's landmark National Exhibition and Convention Center.

But most are currently filled by people with mild symptoms or none at all.

Meanwhile, Shanghai residents under lockdown have complained about a lack of access to food and medicines unrelated to Covid.

"Draconian, heavy-handed zero-Covid control measures" have overwhelmed the medical system, according to Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

This is "an outcome that the zero-Covid strategy is supposed to avoid", he told AFP.

Two thousand soldiers and 38,000 medical workers from around the country have been sent to Shanghai as reinforcements.

At least two asthma patients died after reportedly being refused medical services due to Covid rules.

As pressure on the system grows, some close contacts of patients are being allowed to quarantine at home, while rapid home testing kits have been deployed for the first time.

Shanghai health commission chief Wu Jinglei said this week that although the city had 50 percent more ambulances on the road than before the outbreak, it still could not handle all the requests for medical help.

US OKs departure of non-essential personnel from Shanghai due to Covid

The United States on Friday authorized the "voluntary departure" of non-essential personnel from its consulate in Shanghai and recommended that Americans not travel to China due to tough Covid restrictions there.

The families of all US personnel are also allowed to leave, the State Department said in a statement.

The agency warned US citizens against traveling to Shanghai, China's economic capital and largest city, "due to Covid-19 related restrictions, including the risk of parents and children being separated."

China has been battling its worst wave of infections since the start of the pandemic and Shanghai has been under total or partial lockdown for two weeks, with some 25 million people ordered to stay at home.

China, where the coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, is among the last remaining places in the world to enforce a zero-Covid approach to the pandemic.

In Shanghai, the government implemented a highly controversial policy of separating coronavirus-positive children from parents who tested negative, but then had to relax it following criticism.

With inputs from AFP.