Islamabad: There are “clear early signs” of a fourth COVID-19 wave starting in Pakistan due to poor compliance with the standard operating procedures and the spread of the Delta variant, minister for planning Asad Umar said on Friday.

Umar, who is also the head of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) to combat COVID-19, said field reports were showing a complete disregard for the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and warned that the government would be forced to shut down wedding halls, indoor restaurants and gyms if they ignored the rules.

“Two weeks ago, I tweeted that our artificial intelligence models are showing the possible emergence of a fourth wave. Now there are clear early signs of a fourth wave starting,” he said in a tweet.

He cited poor SOP compliance by the people and the spread of COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant, first identified in India, as reasons for the fourth wave in Pakistan.

The NCOC, the nerve centre of Pakistan’s coronavirus response, has previously confirmed the presence of different variants of coronavirus in Pakistan, including the Delta variant, Beta variant that was first detected in South Africa, and the Alpha variant that was discovered in the United Kingdom.

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Meanwhile, Pakistan recorded 1,737 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours which was the highest since 1,923 cases recorded on June 4.

Pakistan recorded 663 cases on June 21 which marked the end of the third wave that hit the country in March and peaked on April 17 with 6,127 new cases.

Last year Pakistan battled two waves of the pandemic.

Umar’s tweet came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan in a video message issued a similar warning about the looming threat of a new wave and urged people to follow the guidelines.

Meanwhile, the national tally of confirmed cases reached 969,476 while the death toll touched 22,520, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

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