Since last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan have been reportedly dropping. In a meeting held on July 15, the world health organization began to take notice of the pattern. The number of daily reported cases had dropped to 2,165, potentially indicative of a downward trend.
However, as noted by many, this drop in reported cases coincides with a sharp drop in the number of tests. PTI federal minister Asad Umer addressed this correlation in a tweet noting that if the two were commensurate, more cases would have been reported mutatis mutandis, “Some saying cases are down only due to testing reduction. If positivity ratio was same as in mid june… 22% +, the 24,262 tests done yesterday would have resulted in 5,500 cases… Actual yesterday was 2,145.! Decline is primarily due to a nearly 60% reduction in positivity”
Speculation is wide ranging as to the reasons of this sudden shift. According to high-ranking PTI members such as Asad Umer, this positive trend is owed to the government’s efforts and policies such as smart lock-down, enforcement of standard operating procedures SOPs, and the efficacy of local authorities. Contrary to this outlook, the world health organization, in a leaked letter last month, criticized the Pakistan government’s policies, especially its decision to lift the lock-down, and even listed it among the 10 countries with the most rapidly growing number of cases.
Business Recorder in talking to Omar Chughtai of Chughtai Labs, the leading testing laboratories in Pakistan, tried to explain some of the factors contributing to this unaccountable decrease. Chughtai countered the suggestion of decreased tests, “The government has advised us to bolster our testing capacity instead and has been critically engaged with our data. We increased our testing capacity from 6000 to 8000 in July. You cannot hide the virus. Even if one attempts to modify it through public relations and media management, it is important to note that the virus does not care what political party or country we belong to.”
Although this increase is welcome news, it is important to keep in mind that regardless of the testing capacity, the capacity utilized still remains alarmingly low. According to the National Command Operation Center NCOC, the percentage of testing capacity utilized is about 40%.
To add to the list of explanations, many people have been touting herd immunity as the solution to the pandemic from early on. Chughtai offered proof to this assertion, “Our data using the antibody tests suggest that more than 50% of the infected (now recovered) people have developed antibodies. In Lahore, roughly 40% people we tested have antibodies”.
However, herd immunity is not an idea that offers much in the way of an explanation. The number of reported cases so far is around 261,000 of which there have been 5,505 deaths and 183,737 recovered, a significant but ultimately small fraction of the total population, meaning that we are far from such a collective immunity. One may argue that this number does not account for all the people infected but by the same token, this would imply that the total exceeds the number of cases reported which only adds to the concern of a decrease in the number of people tested.
Furthermore, these unreported cases mean that the death toll also does not account for deaths due to other complications caused by the virus. For instance, there have been accounts suggesting an increase in the number of heart complications among young people.
Some sources such as DW contend that the decrease in number of reported cases is, in fact, fabricated, “Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a government official in a semi-urban district in Punjab province noted that he had direct orders from his superior to omit numbers by almost half. This month he reported 34 new cases, instead of 63.”
Some have suggested that the Summer weather particular to the region plays a part in this decrease although there are no studies to support this argument one way or the other. Another explanation given is that the people endemic to the region have a strong immunity against the corona virus but we have only to look at neighboring India to shut down this argument. As we have reported on already, India continues to suffer the toll of the pandemic, with high profile celebrities such as Ashwariya Rai, contracting the virus.
In conclusion, all of this is not to say that there might not well be a decrease in the number of cases, however, the unusually sharp decline is nonetheless suspicious and misrepresentation of facts and figures is a likely possibility. With contradictory reports being the norm when it comes to the pandemic, everything should be taken with a grain of salt, especially with Eid-Ul-Adha around the corner which is likely to cause a spike in the number of cases.