Flight operations to Iran will be suspended from midnight in light of coronavirus cases: govt

Updated 28 Feb 2020

Email

The decision comes a day after two cases of coronavirus were reported in Pakistan. — AP/File
The decision comes a day after two cases of coronavirus were reported in Pakistan. — AP/File

Pakistan on Thursday decided to suspend flights to and from Iran at midnight in light of the swelling number of coronavirus cases in the neighbouring country.

Road and rail movement between the two countries had already been suspended earlier in the week.

The decision comes a day after two cases of coronavirus were reported in Pakistan. Both the infected people had recently visited Iran, where the number of people affected by the virus has grown drastically in the past few days.

Read: Everything you need to know about the coronavirus

"Aviation Division has decided to cease all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran with effect from midnight between 27 and 28 February 2020 till further notice," a message from Joint Secretary of Aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.

Meanwhile, a round-the-clock coronavirus control room has been set up at the Aviation Division, confirmed the spokesperson.

The government has decided to continue flights to and from Saudi Arabia for passengers holding iqama or permanent Saudi nationalities. However, people wishing to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah or tourism will not be allowed on the flights.

The decision was taken in light of the Saudi government's decision to suspend Umrah and tourism operations in light of the growing number of coronavirus affectees all over the world.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also tweeted about these measures and said that while the national carrier will continue flight operations as usual, people with Umran or tourist visas will not be able to go to Saudi Arabia as "PIA will fully implement instructions given by the Saudi government".

Earlier, a source from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told DawnNewsTV that a flight coming from Oman was disembarked at the runway at Jinnah International Airport. The passengers were checked for the virus on the runway before they made their way to immigration and out of the airport.

The CAA source further said that the decision to disembark flights and check patients at the runway was taken at a meeting at the Chief Minister House this morning.

After the meeting, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah briefed the media about the measures being taken by the Sindh government in an effort to control the virus outbreak.

Coronavirus helpline

On Thursday morning, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza called on people who have recently travelled to virus-hit countries to call on the helpline.

"If you or somebody you know have recently returned from China, Iran or a country where #COVIDー19 is prevalent and if there are symptoms like fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, please report by calling at 1166," he said.

Confirmation of cases in Pakistan

Yesterday, the Sindh health department announced that a young man had tested positive for the coronavirus in Karachi — the first confirmed case in Pakistan.

Shortly after, Dr Mirza had confirmed the case in Karachi and one more, both coming from Iran.

"I can confirm first two cases of coronavirus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable," said Dr Mirza via a tweet.

"No need to panic, things are under control," he added.

Later, addressing a late-night press conference in Quetta, Mirza said one of the cases was reported in Sindh while the second was confirmed in "federal areas". He added that both the affected persons had travelled to Iran in the last two weeks. He, however, refused to comment further on the two cases.

In response to a question, he said 15 suspected cases of the virus are currently under investigation, while 100 cases have tested negative so far.

He said instead of creating panic or worrying needlessly, people should "take precautions and show responsibility". Mirza urged the public to go to hospitals if they start experiencing any of the symptoms and contact the government helpline on 1166.

He said due to measures taken by the government to prevent the spread of the virus, Pakistan is the last country in the region where COVID-19 has been reported.

"We are on the right track. With Allah's blessings, this [virus] will not take the form of an outbreak in Pakistan," the SAPM said, adding that measures are in place to prevent an outbreak.

Sindh reports first case

The 22-year-old male patient in Sindh had travelled to Iran where he acquired COVID-19, Media Coordinator to the Health and Population Welfare Minister Meeran Yousuf said in a statement, days after Pakistan closed its land border with Iran, where 19 people have died from the virus.

The patient travelled from Iran to Karachi by plane on February 20. He and his family have been placed in quarantine and the Health Department is in the process of examining all the passengers that he travelled with, the statement added.

Speaking to DawnNewsTV, Yousuf said the man had started showing symptoms while he was in Iran. His tests were carried out today at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) which turned out to be positive, she said.

Yousuf said the Sindh government has informed the federal government, World Health Organisation and other partners about the confirmation of the virus in the patient. "The passengers who travelled with him were exposed as well; we will track down all the passengers and carry out their tests," she added.

"It’s a very alarming situation. Not only his case couldn’t be detected in Iran or in Pakistan when he reported at the airport, he roamed around freely in the city for almost a week during which he must have interacted with a lot of people," said Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the Pakistan Medical Association, adding that all those people who had travelled with him might also be at risk of contracting the disease.

This whole episode, he said, put a question mark over the government claims that scanners had been installed at airports to detect cases of highly infectious coronavirus.

Second case confirmed at PIMS Islamabad

According to a spokesperson for Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) in Islamabad Dr Wasim Khawaja, the coronavirus test results for a patient who came from Skardu were positive.

The spokesperson said that the patient had visited Iran a month ago, adding that his condition was out of danger.

Earlier, a source in the Ministry of National Health Services also confirmed the two cases to Dawn. The source had said the other patient was admitted at Islamabad’s PIMS facility; the health secretary did not verify the claim.

"A person has been confirmed with virus in Karachi and another has been kept in isolation ward of PIMS,” the source had said. Health Secretary Dr Allah Baksh Malik, however, was reluctant to confirm that a patient had been admitted at PIMS.

Spread of the coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has killed over 2,800 people and infected more than 82,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another animal species.

On Wednesday, the WHO said there are now more new cases of the coronavirus reported each day outside China than inside the hardest-hit country.

The UN health agency had put the number of new cases in China at 411 on Tuesday, while those registered outside the country stood at 427.