KARACHI ― Three months after Pakistan confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, the country of more than 200 million people is abandoning protective measures and allowing citizens to gather to celebrate one of its biggest annual festivals. That decision will likely cause cases to spike, experts warn. Like Brazil and the United States, two major epicenters of the pandemic, Pakistan is on the brink of deepening a public health crisis because leaders insist on following political whims over scientific experts.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has already killed more than 1,100 Pakistanis and infected more than 52,000, according to government statistics, which offer only a partial picture of the national situation because of inconsistent and disproportionately low testing. This incomplete data suggests the trend in new reported cases ― the so-called “curve” ― is plateauing at best, without beginning a real decline.
But authorities have been winding down their national lockdown for weeks, most recently reopening the few shopping malls that were still closed and restarting domestic travel ― days ahead of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan during which most Pakistanis attend large family gatherings, often showing off rare treats from special shopping sprees.
As in the U.S. and other countries, safety measures are up against political polarization and conspiracy theories, making some resistant to do what’s needed to slow the virus’s spread. The cost of Pakistan’s choice will fall on its citizens ― particularly the poorest, whom politicians have cited as their top concern in challenging stay-at-home orders ― and its fragile health care system, the staff of which is being infected at high rates.
After Eid, the number of new infections reported daily could be 15% to 20% higher than the current rate, National Institute of Health director Aamer Ikram told local newspaper Dawn. The Pakistan medical...