QUETTA: In view of deaths caused by novel coronavirus in Iran, Pakistan has temporarily closed its border with the neighbouring country and decided not to allow anyone to cross into Pakistan without strict screening at Taftan and four other entry points in Balochistan.
“We have closed all the five entry points — Taftan, Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur and Washuk — at the border with Iran on Sunday,” provincial Home Minister Ziaullah Langove said, adding that the step had been taken as a precautionary measure since deaths had been reported in Iran due to outbreak of coronavirus in Qom and other areas.
However, the Iranian government has said that it had not put any restriction on travel to Iran from Pakistan and its border was open at the Iranian side. “We are granting visa to deserving people, including pilgrims, who are applying for it,” a spokesman for the Iranian consulate in Quetta said.
“All entry gates at Taftan being used for crossing into Pakistan were closed this morning,” a senior security official posted at Taftan told Dawn, adding that patrolling along the Iran border too had been intensified to keep an eye on the people’s movement. Four other entry points located in Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur and Washuk districts have also been closed.
Balochistan govt says 5,000 Pakistanis in Iran will return after screening
Another entry point in the Mashkel area has also been closed by the authorities after receiving information about influx of people into Pakistan from Iran. Official sources said that the border had been closed for the time being to ensure that every traveller coming from Iran was screened.
Sources said that about 200 people, including Pakistani pilgrims, had reached Mir Jawa, the Iranian border crossing point, to enter Pakistan but they had not been allowed to cross into Pakistan as the immigration office had also been closed.
“Without strict screening no one will be allowed to enter Pakistan,” a senior FIA official told Dawn, adding that the decision to allow pilgrims and other people to enter the country from Iran might be taken in the next few days.
According to Pakistani pilgrims who are waiting at Mir Jawa to enter Pakistan, thousands of Pakistanis who had gone to Iran to visit holy sites had been stranded in different cities of Iran, including Qom and Mashhad.
The Pakistani border authorities also did not allow Pakistani pilgrims and other travellers, who reached Taftan for proceeding to Iran, to cross the border and asked them to postpone their journey until further orders.
A large number of pilgrims, who have come to Quetta from different cities of Pakistan for travel to Iran, have also been stuck in Quetta due the border closure.
The Balochistan home minister said that the Provincial Disaster Management Authority and the health department were jointly taking precautionary measures to prevent the people from falling prey to the deadly coronavirus in the border districts of Balochistan.
He said that a 100-bed tent hospital, four mobile health units (set up in containers) and 10 ambulances had been sent to Taftan as most of the travellers, including pilgrims, businesspersons and tourists, used Taftan for crossing the border.
Meanwhile, an isolation ward has been established in the Gwadar Development Authority Hospital. Deputy Commissioner of Gwadar retired captain Mohammad Wasim said that testing kits had also been provided to the staff at Gwadar airport and the border crossing to screen travellers.
According to Additional Deputy Commissioner of Chagai Badal Khan Dashti, 100 pilgrims lodged in Pakistan House at Taftan have been screened by doctors.
Taftan-based Levies Force officials said until the quarantine facilities were not established at the border, it would remain closed.
Following an order by the director general of the provincial health department, the district health officer of Chagai has constituted a task force to monitor the coronavirus-related situation in the district. Local officials of the health department said every individual coming from Iran would be kept in isolation for 14 days to confirm if he or she had been infected by coronavirus or not.
Asked about the establishment of the 100-bed tent hospital in Taftan, the officials said that it had not been established yet as few remaining tents were being transported to Taftan from Quetta by the PDMA.
“It will be a challenge when more than 5,000 pilgrims visiting Iran will return to Taftan town which lacks the capacity to provide them accommodation,” official sources said. “Therefore it is under consideration to request Iran to keep these people in their territory for 14 days.”
Meanwhile, panic has spread among people living near the Iran border after news of the closure of Pak-Iran border and the precautionary measures circulated in social media.
Social media users have expressed concern over the situation and requested the authorities to immediately upgrade the local basic health infrastructure and run awareness campaigns in far-flung villages located near the border.
Spokesperson for the Balochistan government Liaquat Shahwani confirmed that there were about 5,000 Pakistan nationals in Iran.
“We would ask the Iranian authorities to screen these people and they would be allowed to return after they are cleared in the screening,” he said, adding that 7,664 traders and pilgrims, who had recently returned to Pakistan from Iran, would also be screened.
Ali Raza Rind from Chagai also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020