IT is distressing to note that the new strain of coronavirus is spreading across countries at an alarming speed, at a time when the Chinese premier had reassured the world that the virus would be under control soon. Instead, even more deaths are being reported from mainland China, where the total number of cases has swollen to over 77,000 — a massive uptick since the virus was first reported in December 2019. Meanwhile, South Korea and Italy have seen a sudden increase in the number of cases in recent days. Especially worrying for Pakistan, all four of its neighbours have now recorded cases of Covid-19 within their borders, with the Afghan health ministry confirming its first case in Herat yesterday, after three men who returned from their travels from Iran were tested and placed under quarantine. Iran itself is struggling to contain the outbreak of the virus, particularly in Qom. A global health catastrophe that has claimed more lives than the previous SARS scare of the early 2000s, the news will unfortunately continue to be peppered with a generous dose of xenophobia and politicking, but fear of the virus is not irrational.
As the death toll in Iran keeps increasing — though the exact figures continue to be debated — Afghanistan, Turkey, Armenia and Pakistan have now imposed travel restrictions and closed their borders with the country, fearing that the outbreak will spiral out of control without strict measures in place to restrict the movement of people crossing boundaries. In fact, it is a rather remarkable fact that, so far, Pakistan has yet not reported a single case, despite fears being expressed by some that the virus may already be here. If such a contagious illness were to enter the country, one can only imagine the toll it would take on the already overburdened and under-resourced healthcare system. It will be a massive challenge for the government to combat the virus, as Pakistan is already struggling to end diseases which the rest of the world eradicated many years ago such as polio.
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2020