A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks on a road in Peshawar, Pakistan on Oct. 21, 2021. (Photo by Saeed Ahmad/Xinhua)
by Raheela Nazir
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Talha Hashmi, a medical practitioner at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital in Rawalpindi, has spent comparatively quiet and peaceful days at his workplace as fears of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic subside in Pakistan with a substantial decrease in the number of new daily infections recently.
Hashmi said there were times when he was working extra hours and night shifts in the isolation ward of the hospital reserved for COVID-19 patients after the outbreak.
"It was extremely challenging for us (healthcare workers). It was not only the deadly virus we were fighting, but also the fear and anxiety surrounding the disease as health experts were not sure how it behaves exactly due to its novelty... and there was no vaccine, inciting severe panic among people."
"Hospitals were overwhelmed with coronavirus patients throughout the country. There was a chaotic situation. At one point, my hospital even stopped taking more patients due to the unavailability of beds and shortage of oxygen. Turning down patients who needed urgent medical assistance was the most painful and unforgettable moment of my life," Hashmi said.
As Pakistan continues to see a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, Hashmi said the burden on healthcare facilities has been largely reduced, urging people to carry on by following standard operating procedures (SOPs) to save themselves and loved ones from the virus.
Over the last several days, the country has been reporting less than 1,000 cases. The daily count in the country fell to its lowest level in a year with only 554 fresh cases on Tuesday.
Pakistani health experts and officials believe that a number of COVID-19-related restrictions including smart lockdowns in the virus hotspots and an aggressive vaccination drive have helped the country to bring down coronavirus cases and to be able to gradually reopen businesses and institutions.
Last week, in light of the spread of the disease slowing down and the ongoing vaccination campaign, Pakistan further eased COVID-19 restrictions by opening cinemas and shrines for fully vaccinated citizens.
The one-day weekly closure of businesses was abolished, and the number of guests allowed to attend indoor and outdoor weddings was increased, according to a statement issued by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the nerve center of Pakistan's COVID-19 response.
Meanwhile, with the launch of the school vaccination program recently, all the educational institutions in the country had been allowed to start normal classes from Oct. 11.
However, experts and officials said the threat of another wave of the pandemic is not yet over and the risk of the spread of the virus is real with the arrival of winter, urging the public to get vaccinated at the earliest.
"To ensure there is no fifth wave of COVID, we have to meet vaccination targets set. Otherwise, despite a sharp decline in cases, we remain vulnerable if a large number of people remain unvaccinated," Chairman of the NCOC Asad Umar said in a tweet on Thursday.
Pakistan has set a target of vaccinating at least 70 million people in the country by the end of this year, and officials believe that the government is moving fast to achieve it. As of Wednesday night, the country has administered 98,607,708 doses of vaccines, with 37,468,751 people fully vaccinated.
Muhammad Khalid, a Lahore-based public health expert, said any kind of laxity in terms of coronavirus safety procedures is not favorable since cold weather is just around the corner and the rates of transmission and mortality are higher in cold seasons.
"We have to stick to the safety measures and should not lose vigilance against the invisible enemy. We should continue to take precautions including social distancing and wearing masks."
Pakistani people should not act like they have already defeated the disease as the fight is far from over, Khalid said. Enditem