Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umar has said that the coronavirus situation in the country is improving as the number of COVID-19 cases “decrease owing to effective measures taken by the government and a majority of people following social distancing guidelines”.

But the statement the minister made while addressing a press conference at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) last Friday, has been contradicted by the government itself as its data suggests that COVID-19 cases have declined over the past one week because of low testing rate.

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As many as 5,000 to 6,000 cases were being reported on a daily basis in Pakistan by mid-June, which had prompted the government to impose selective lockdowns in different parts of the country, especially Punjab and Sindh, and the number of daily infections has now dropped to 3,000 to 4,000.

While data from June 15 to June 29 shows that the number of cases reported in the country after June 19 has comparatively been lower, contrary to Umar’s claims, a major reason behind the drop has been that the number of tests performed to diagnose COVID-19 across the country also dropped significantly during the said period.

The rate of testing came down from 31,000 to 20,000 while the target set by the government to achieve in July was the enhancement of Pakistan’s testing capacity to 100,000.

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If you look at the statistics, it is clear that Pakistan has conducted 1,327,638 (1.3 million) tests so far, while according to Worldometers, Pakistan ranks 32nd out of 49 Asian countries in terms of testing capacity. Countries including Iraq, Bhutan, Iran and Maldives have a higher testing capacity than that of Pakistan.

According to Punjab health officials, the government is continuing to enhance testing capacity in the country but the testing rate has dropped because patients are less exposed to the virus amid lockdowns.

“A test is conducted when a suspected patient comes forward after complaining of symptoms or as part of a random testing drive in hotspots,” they said, adding that both instances had seen a significant drop amid lockdown restrictions