Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza announced on Sunday that Pakistan was now capable of detecting the novel coronavirus with the arrival of at least 1,000 testing kits from China.
Taking to Twitter, the PM's aide lauded National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad officials for their hard work in securing the reagent for diagnosing the virus which was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Jan 31.
The PM's aide added that booths have also been set up at airports to provide information about coronavirus. "Health information booths have been set up at airports to provide answers to queries about #Coronarivus and disseminate important standardised info materials."
He added that guidelines for clinical care and prevention as well as official airport guidelines for coronavirus have also been issued.
Speaking to Dawn.com, NIH public health labs chief Dr Muhammad Salman said that the tests reached Pakistan early Sunday morning.
He maintained that approximately 1,000 kits have been brought to Pakistan from China. Commenting on how the kits worked, the official explained that it was a PCR-based (polymerase chain reaction) test which will be used to isolate the genome of the virus.
He stated that for now, the testing for the virus will be carried out at the NIH in Islamabad but will later be expanded to other cities depending on the need. "Samples collected from across the country will be sent to NIH where they will be tested. We already have a mechanism in place for this," he said.
However, the official refrained from giving a time frame for the test results. "Typically PCR test results take eight to 12 hours. However, the test may have to be repeated due to an error in which case it can take another additional eight to 12 hours. Moreover, samples collected from nearby cities can reach the institute within six to eight hours but those from farther away can take up to 24 hours," he explained.
He added that the NIH was expected to become fully operational in testing the novel coronavirus by Tuesday after going through a dry run. The tests will be conducted free-of-charge, the official said.
Medical supplies sent to China
On Sunday, medical supplies from Pakistan reached the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported Radio Pakistan.
Among the medical supplies are 0.3 million medical masks, 800 hazmat suits and 6,800 pairs of medical gloves. Several countries had offered to donate medical supplies to China to support them in fighting the outbreak of novel coronavirus.
On Friday, Pakistan had halted flights to and from China with immediate effect as the death toll from the virus outbreak in China had mounted.
"We are suspending flights to China until February 2," Senior Joint Secretary of aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar had told Reuters by phone, adding that the situation would be reviewed after that date. The official had declined to comment on the reason for the closure.
Additional input from Reuters