RAWALPINDI: The Punjab government has sent a team of doctors to screen Chinese nationals working on the Karot Power Project for coronavirus.

A coronavirus outbreak that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 across China is believed to have originated at a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan.

The Karot Power Project is being build on the Jhelum River near Karot village in the Kahuta tehsil of Rawalpindi district. The proposed project site is 65 kilometres from Rawalpindi city, currently home to more than 2,500 Chinese engineers and other staff members.

“At present there are 600 Chinese employees at the Karot Power Project camp and the remaining are on leave for Chinese New Year celebrations; they are expected to return next week,” Commissioner retired Capt Mohammad Mehmood told Dawn.

He said the Punjab government has sent a team of doctors to screen Chinese employees and determine if they are facing health issues, along with other staff.

Mr Mehmood said counters have opened at the Islamabad International Airport (IIA) to check passengers from China and other countries where coronavirus cases have been reported. He said doctors from Rawalpindi hospitals were deployed at the airport in this regard.

A team from the World Health Organisation led by Michael Lukwiya visited IIA, he said, where they briefed medical, immigration and other airport staff about precautionary measures.

He said a high dependency unit (HDU) has been established at three government-run hospitals in Rawalpindi – Holy Family Hospital, Benazir Bhutto Hospital and District Headquarters Hospital – on orders from the Punjab government. Training for doctors and staff has begun as well.

Mr Mehmood said the government has completed all its homework to deal with any cases, although none have been reported in the three hospitals so far. The Rawalpindi Medical University was asked to contact the WHO to deal with such patients and to adopt standard operating procedures issues by international organisations.

The administrations of all four Rawalpindi division districts have been asked to begin awareness raising to protect people from coronavirus, he added. Pamphlets and other material will be published in this regard.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that range from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. It circulates among animals, and some viruses can be transmitted between animals and humans.

Experts are of the view that coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms. They have recommended basic hand hygiene, or hand washing, and respiratory hygiene. People should also protect themselves from potential animal sources and ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly before consumption. There are no specific treatments for coronaviruses, but the symptoms can be treated.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020