With India gripped in the jaws of tragedy as mass funeral pyres fill the skies with smoke, some prescient eyes are looking nervously over to India’s neighbour and long-term foe.
Last week saw a record rise in COVID-19 deaths in Pakistan. With the capacity of COVID-19 to spread exponentially, fear is spreading across Pakistan that it too will see a similar picture to India.
In the first week of March, Pakistan had only 16,000 cases, rapidly rising to 140,000 cases and 3,000 deaths in April alone.
In Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, intensive care unit bed capacity reached 93% in major public and private hospitals on 28th April, with 70% of ventilators occupied.
According to the National Command and Operations Centre, which oversees the government’s pandemic response, the city of Gujranwala recorded 98% occupancy of beds equipped with an oxygen supply.
In a bid to increase compliance with government restrictions, the government response has been to deploy army personnel to 16 large cities where positive test rates were high. These restrictions are likely to be in place during the forthcoming Eid al-Fitr festivities.
Health Minister Faisal Sultan said on Tuesday:
“We are increasing the capacity of our healthcare system every day so that there are proper facilities available for this increasing number of covid patients.”
With harrowing stories from India of families cremating their loved ones in their own gardens as crematoriums overfill, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed solidarity with the people of India battling the deadly wave of the COVID1-9 pandemic:
“I want to express our solidarity with the people of India as they battle a dangerous wave of COVID-19. We must fight this global challenge confronting humanity together.”
Prime Minister Khan also conceded that his own country, which has less than one doctor per 963 people, could be headed for its own disaster.
Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Health, confirmed that Pakistan had administered 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. In a country of more than 216 million, this amount is almost negligible.
Pakistan requires at least 86 million doses but has managed to secure only 18 million, having only received 5 million doses to date.
Just how Pakistan managed to come out of its first and second waves relatively unscathed is unclear, but this all changed with the arrival of the British variant, which is both more transmissible and deadlier than the original strain.
Many people will be asking themselves whether those who left the UK to travel to Pakistan had reflected on the instructions of the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) during a plague:
“When you hear that a plague is in a land, do not go to it, and if it occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it.”
 Saḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, Book 76, hadith 43