Pakistan is understating its rate of infections and the death toll from the coronavirus, the head of a government task force has said as the country becomes a hotspot for the pandemic in South Asia, Bloomberg reported.
“The actual numbers will be two to three times more than what the government is reporting,” Dr Attaur Rahman, chairman of Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s task force on science and technology, said and added that a large number of cases weren’t being reported because of low testing and as reasons other than respiratory failure weren’t being counted in deaths.
Pakistan’s coronavirus cases have increased manifold since the government eased a lockdown in the second week of May after a partial shutdown of about two months. PM Imran has said he is allowing some businesses to open as he fears people will die of poverty and hunger instead of the virus. Alarmed by the rising number of cases, the authorities have again started shutting down residential localities in 20 key cities including the federal capital and Lahore.
Pakistan is the second most infected nation in Asia after India with over 150,000 cases and about 3,000 deaths. The fatality rate of 2% is less than half of the 5% global average.
Random testing in Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, by the health department of Punjab in May showed that at least 6 per cent of all tests came back positive for COVID-19 while in some areas the percentage was as high as 14 per cent, Voice of America reported.
Based on the city’s population and the sampling data, the health department working group, comprised of epidemiologists, public health specialists, applied economists, statisticians and public policy specialists, calculated the number of cases in Lahore to be 670,800 on May 15.
The rate at which the infection was spreading alarmed those involved.
“Our calculations said the numbers were doubling every two weeks,” said Dr Waheeduzzaman Tariq, a senior virologist who was part of the group and sits on multiple government committees dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
According to those numbers, on June 15, the figure should be approximately 2.7 million infected people in Lahore alone.