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Pakistani doctors warn against easing COVID-19 restrictions

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KARACHI: A group of leading doctors from Pakistan’s metropolitan port city of Karachi – the capital of the province of Sindh – from the Pakistan Medical Association on Wednesday implored the Pakistani government and religious leaders to continue to abide by recommended precautions instead of easing restrictions, warning that a point would otherwise come when they would have to choose which patients to save.

Dr Saad Niaz. a gastroenterologist at the Dow University of Health Sciences, said, “This is foremost a medical problem with consequential economic and social fallout.”

“From April 16 to April 21, we went from 6,772 patients to 9,464 patients, nearly a 40% increase […] an increase by 2,692 patients. If you count patients from February 25, we took time in reaching 2,000 patients,” he said.

Dr Saad called it “unfortunate” that the impression was that “this is not as serious an issue in our country as in other countries, the reason for which is our testing capacity, which is an issue that will remain.”

He said this in fact is not true at all and doctors like him think the numbers are higher and will continue to rise. “We have not even peaked yet, so it is very important to bust all myths such as the one that COVID-19 won’t affect Pakistanis,” said Dr Saad.

He went on, “If we hadn’t placed the country under a lockdown, the situation would have been different. Similarly, if we don’t act now, two weeks down the line the situation will be very different.”

“The wards are all already 80% saturated. And in Pakistan’s case, there are more patients who are under 60 years of age,” he said.

Dr Saad said more and more doctors were affected [with the virus] now, 162 in the province of Sindh alone.

“We are already very under-equipped when it comes to our healthcare. We don’t have what it takes to fight this,” he said, citing lack of COVID-19 specific facilities and personal protection equipment for doctors throughout the country.

Dr. Saad said doctors would find the next few weeks difficult, particularly refusing to admit patients for lack of beds. “Doctors think this will spiral out of control over the next two to four weeks. And with non-COVID patients coming in as well, hospitals will have to be closed [to more patients].”

“Projected figures stand at 70,000 and if 10% of those are serious cases, we don’t have the capacity to treat them because there aren’t enough ventilators. So our only option is to be aggressive with precautions. We don’t have the skill nor capacity to combat something of the impending scale,” Dr. Saad said.

“Whatever we have done so far will have to be continued,” he stressed.

“What I fear is that we start treating patients on the road. We will be deciding between a 35-year-old and 55-year-old and giving preference to the younger one.”

Other doctors protest: Other doctors, prominent among them the CEO of Indus Hospital, Dr Abdul Bari, said doctors had protested the decision to ease off the lockdown on April 14, expecting instead that a lockdown of at least two incubation periods would be put in effect,” he said.

He said that the arrival of Ramzan, which had prompted the government to succumb to pressure and retract measures taken and subsequently ease restrictions, had resulted in a surge in cases. Dr. Bari added that all of Karachi’s medical facilities were now almost full to capacity.

Doctor Abdul Bari | The government shouldn’t have yielded!

Dr. Bari and other doctors were upset that the government had yielded to pressure form Islamic clerics who took it as an affront to Islam that mosques would not see a rubbing of shoulders by the faithful this Ramzan, although the highest Islamic centers such as the Khana Ka’aba and Majid Nabvi in Saudi Arabia – the holiest of holies in Islam – were closed to congregations this Ramzan and those wanting to congregate as usual were encouraged to pray at home instead!

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