How Did Pakistan Flatten the Coronavirus Curve?

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Despite ending its lockdown early, Pakistan managed to flatten the curve. But the country is still far from achieving herd immunity.

In May, Pakistan appeared to be on the edge of a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. The government defied all norms by deciding to lift its lockdown at a time when the country was recording a daily average of over 5,000 cases, with local transmission accounting for at least 90 percent of the spread.

By mid-August, the global COVID tally crossed 23 million, with over 810,000 deaths. Pakistan’s numbers remained relatively low, at around 292,000 infections and over 6,200 deaths in a population of 220.4 million. While the world recorded more than 4 million infections and over 200,000 deaths in the past three weeks, Pakistan contributed around 12,000 cases and less than 250 deaths to that tally.

The government reopened the economy in phases and in doing so achieved the impossible by flattening the curve. But, as the saying goes, things are not always what they seem.

A seroprevalence study, conducted in July by the Health Services Academy (HSA) in collaboration with multiple partners including the Agha Khan University Hospital and World Health Organization, estimated 11 percent of Pakistanis have developed COVID-19 antibodies while 89 percent remain at risk.

“It means that every 10th Pakistani has developed antibodies in their blood against the SARS-Cov-2 virus,” reads the study. People between the age of 20 to 60, current smokers, urban residents, and those who have had contact with a known COVID-19 person were found more prone to be exposed to the virus.

“There is a very large number out there that needs to be protected from the virus,” said National Command and Operations Center (NCOC) chief Asad Umar.

Epidemiologist Dr. Rana Jawad Asghar interprets the findings to be in line with global studies suggesting 11 to 20 percent of the population in most countries have been exposed to the virus.

“The 11 percent could also represent the most vulnerable of the population and the remaining may not be susceptible to the virus,” he added, while expressing doubts over the seroprevalence study’s accuracy.

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