Pakistan may reinforce its lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, officials have said, amid a spike in infections and deaths three weeks after restrictions were lifted.
Health authorities and regional governments expressed alarm as Pakistan’s confirmed coronavirus caseload surged past 56,000, with nearly 1,200 related deaths. The number of confirmed cases has more than doubled from 23,000 on May 6, when the country lifted its lockdown.
New reported cases appeared to spike over the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr this weekend.
“We might go for a nationwide lockdown again because the virus is spreading rapidly,” said Pakistan’s Special Assistant for Health Zafar Mirza, and blamed the fresh wave of infections on the population not adhering to social distancing. “All warnings by the government were not heard.”
“This carefree approach can aggravate things and our health system can collapse,” he added.
Tens of thousands of people traveled by buses, trains, and cars to celebrate Eid in their ancestral towns over the weekend. Markets remained crowded with shoppers, few of whom wore face masks.
“This situation cannot be left on its own,” said Murad Ali Shah, chief minister of Sindh, Pakistan’s worst-hit province. “There seems no option except reverting back to strict restrictions.”
When announcing the end of the lockdown, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was compelled to make the decision for the sakes of several million people whose livelihoods were at stake.
The concern remains that a prolonged lockdown could force more than half of Pakistan’s 220 million population into poverty.