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Gov't Official Claims Pakistan Virus Cases In 'Downward Trend'

While the reported numbers of COVID-19 infections have dropped, officials warn that there could be a spike if public health measures aren't followed during the upcoming Eid al-Adha festival.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The spread of the novel coronavirus has lately been showing a downward trend in Pakistan, which is the main reason for a marked drop in daily testing, a top government official said on July 20.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended Pakistan increase daily testing to above 50,000, but after peaking at 31,000 tests exactly a month ago, the South Asian nation tested fewer than 20,000 people on July 19.

"There is no magic number that you have to achieve. What you have to do is good contact tracing that you are able to find the maximum numbers of exposed persons," Faisal Sultan, the key adviser on COVID-19 for Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters. "The downward trend of the epidemic is the primary reason for the reduced demand in tests."

Pakistan has registered 265,082 infections and 5,599 deaths.

On July 1, a total of 4,339 people tested positive, and the number dropped to 1,587 on July 19 with an average of 118 deaths a day in late June falling to 47 last week. On Sunday, 31 deaths were reported.

Zubair Faisal Abbasi, whose Impact Research International is studying health systems in South Asia during the COVID-19 outbreak, says people were preferring to quarantine without testing.

"The reservoir (of the disease) is there, and it can jump back," he warned.

Sultan termed it "unmistakeable signs of a drop" to "prepare ourselves for any future changes or challenges."

Two big challenges lie ahead. Eid al-Adha, a festival for Muslims to kill animals to please God later this month, has led to thousands of people thronging animal markets across the country.

During Ashura, a 10-day period of mourning starting later in August, tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims march to commemorate the 7th-century death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussain.

Sultan warned people against violating public health measures. "We can have spikes of cases and deaths," he said.