KARACHI, Pakistan

Although Pakistan has witnessed a significant drop in COVID-19 cases, experts believe that reopening of the tourism sector at this moment can return the pandemic wave.

The alarm bells rang after nearly 50 employees of hotels and resorts in the country’s northwest and north reported infections over the past few days.

According to local media, some 600,000 tourists from across Pakistan have flocked to the scenic valleys of northern Gilgit-Baltistan, and northwestern Khagan, Naraan, Murree, Chitral, Swat, Dir, and other tourist destinations over past one month, after the government lifted the ban on tour and travel.

In contrast to neighboring India, Pakistan has reported a considerable drop in the COVID-19 cases. According to US-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, so far 294,000 cases were reported in the country with 6,267 deaths. India has recorded 3.23 million cases with around 60,000 deaths.

Official statistics released on Tuesday claim that active COVID-19 cases have dropped below 10,000 in Pakistan, for the first time after the months-long surge.

The medical professionals have, however, warned that the “reckless” reopening of tourism may lead to another wave of a pandemic due to massive human movement.

“It [reopening of tourism] can lead to another wave of coronavirus cases in the country as no safety precautions are being followed by the tourists, ” Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, the secretary-general of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), a nationwide body of health professionals, told Anadolu Agency.

He said the declining number can go up once again, because of the hasty moves, cautioning that the possible virus spread would bring the burden back on the country’s already weak healthcare system.

The danger of infection and transmission

Endorsing Sajjad’s view, Dr. Tahir Shamsi, the country’s renowned hematologist, said those who are going to tourist sites, may infect the locals and vice versa.

“Whatever data of active cases, and tests, are [only] from urban area — a few big cities. We do not know much about the coronavirus situation in rural areas, including tourist destinations. Even if those areas are clear, then there are strong chances of the virus spreading through asymptomatic tourists from across Pakistan,” Shamsi, who heads the National Institute of Blood Diseases Karachi, told Anadolu Agency.

Further, he said if tourists contract the virus from locals, they will carriers to their respective places.

Sajjad urged for the screening of tourists before letting them enter the tourist destinations.

“We understand that business and coronavirus have to go together. But, health and life are more important, ” he said, recommending that the ideal way is to not reopen tourism until Pakistan is declared a coronavirus free country.

“But since, the virus is not going away, in the near future, therefore, tourism can be allowed on a limited scale with strict safety precautions,” he said.

According to the National Command and Operation Center, which leads the country’s battle against COVID-19, the active cases in the country at present stand at 8,987.

The country recorded 482 new cases over the past 24 hours compared to an average 5,000 cases per day in May and June. In June, even 7,000 cases were recorded in a single day. Among the new cases, 672 are reported in critical condition, according to the data.

Currently, Pakistan is following a strategy of locality-based lockdown in scores of hotspots spread over 20 big cities in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

Studies show people developing immunity

Both health experts believe that a strong immunity and development of anti-bodies among a large number of populations are the key reasons behind the significant drop in virus cases.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Samreen Zaidi from the National Institute of Blood Diseases, revealed that at least 40% of the workforce of Karachi, the country’s largest city and commercial capital have already developed immunity against the COVID-19.

Titled as Challenges in acquiring herd immunity for COVID-19, the study has been accepted for publication by the Oxford University Press’s Journal of Public Health.

A similar study conducted by one of the largest laboratories in Pakistan suggested that at least 33% of the country’s health professionals have developed immunity against the novel coronavirus virus. The laboratory conducted tests on 15,000 health professionals across the country for the study.

“We still cannot describe it as herd immunity. But the pattern shows that a large number of the country’s population have been infected but remained asymptomatic. Thus, the virus is not finding enough healthy people to infect,” said Shamsi.

However, he cautioned that carelessness and hasty moves like reopening of tourism might turn the tables.

“The problem is we yet do not know what we do not know about this virus. It is teaching us new things every day. Therefore, for the moment, care and precautions are the only cure for this virus,” he maintained.

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