The rate of new cases in Pakistan leaped from around 2,000-3,000 a day in late May to as high as 6,800 a day in mid-June.
The coronavirus is spreading in Pakistan at one of the fastest rates in the world, and overwhelmed hospitals are turning away patients. But the government is pushing ahead with opening up the country, trying to salvage a near-collapsed economy where millions have already slid into poverty from pandemic restrictions.
Further complicating the dilemma, as the government pins its main hope for stemming the virus’ rampage on social distancing and masks, many in the public ignore calls to use them.
Millions crowd markets and mosques. Hard-line clerics tell followers to trust that faith will protect them. Many call the virus a hoax. Even some government officials dismiss warnings, saying traffic accidents kill more people.
"I am nervous when I go out because I see our people are still not taking it seriously,” said Diya Rahman, a broadcaster at Radio Pakistan in the capital, Islamabad. Two of her colleagues have died of the virus and more than 20 others have tested positive.
She fears that "until they see their families are dying they won’t understand that we can save ourselves if we adhere to the guidelines, to wear masks.”
Pakistan is a prime example of fragile developing countries that say they’ll just have to live with rising infections and deaths because their economies cannot withstand an open-ended strict lockdown.
But the rapid acceleration in infections in Pakistan this month could be an indicator of what faces other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The rate of new cases in Pakistan leaped from around 2,000-3,000 a day in late May to as high as 6,800 a day in mid-June. Deaths are nearing 150 a day. So far, more than 180,000 people have been infected in this country of 220 million, and the government on Sunday said that the number could total 1.2 million people in August. Authorities have reported 3,590 deaths.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the refusal to impose a complete lockdown saved the country from economic collapse. In televised speeches, he has taken to pleading with Pakistanis to wear masks, ignore countless conspiracy theories and take the virus seriously.
As cases spiraled, the government last week shut down some districts in Islamabad and other cities where fresh outbreaks have been identified. But otherwise it has largely continued with lifting coronavirus restrictions.
The restrictions were initially imposed in mid-March, but within weeks, they were lifted bit by bit. Now, most businesses are reopened, including markets and malls, as is public transportation. Schools, restaurants and wedding halls remain closed, gyms had to be shut down again, but mosques never closed because of clerics’ refusal. Last week, the border with Iran - blamed as the source of the first infections here - was reopened for trade only.
At the same time, hospital beds are filling up.
Pakistan also reported 4,734 new virus cases, raising its overall infections to 93,983. The latest 97 virus-related deaths sees the highest 24-hour increase to its fatalities, as authorities urged volunteers to motivate people to adhere to social distancing regulations to contain the spread of the virus.
Pakistan is also pushing toward 100,000 confirmed infections as Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the country's 220 million people in televised speeches that they are going to have to learn to live with the virus.
Foreign Minister Moahmood Qureshi announced on Friday that he too tested positive for the virus. The two men say their symptoms are mild. In a tweet on Monday, Mirza said he is self-isolating.
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