KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said on Thursday that the detection of a coronavirus case in Karachi was a serious issue, thus, his government had decided to screen all those people who had returned from Iran and even their family members with whom they had closely interacted.

“I have constituted a task force under me which will be meeting at 7pm every day to review the situation and arrangements,” said Mr Shah while speaking at a press conference after presiding over a meeting at CM House to evolve a strategy to combat the deadly virus.

He said the coronavirus patient had visited Iran with a group of 28 people.

“We have established contacts with everyone in that group and have got their names and phone numbers,” he said, adding that those 28 people were under surveillance.

Urges media to respect the privacy of patients, suspected cases

“I am glad that they are voluntarily cooperating with the health department. This support and cooperation is need of the hour.”

The chief minister disclosed that the father, mother and sister of the coronavirus patient had also been screened and fortunately no symptoms of the virus had been found in them.

“Even then, we have shifted them to a hospital for quarantine and other necessary investigations,” he said.

Mr Shah said some 8,000 Pakistanis had visited Iran since Feb 2, of them 1,500 belonged to Sindh. Out of them, around 500 are residents of Karachi and the rest hailed from other districts of the province.

He said a union council-wise data of those 1,500 persons was being compiled so that they could be kept in isolation in their respective houses. In case of coronavirus symptoms in any of them, one could be shifted to hospital.

Mr Shah said the educational institutions had been closed for two days followed by two closed holidays — Saturday and Sunday — so that children of those 1,500 people, who had returned from Iran, should not be able to go to school and interact with other children.

“During these four days the health department would be able to screen those children,” he said.

The chief minister said the coronavirus had become a global emergency and all nations, including Pakistan, would have to battle it with bravery.

Answering a question, CM Shah said a hospital in Karachi had been dedicated for the treatment of coronavirus patients or tests of suspects.

“I have requested the Aga Khan Hospital to purchase all required equipment, gadgets and medicines for the hospital and we would pay them,” he said.

Patients’ privacy stressed

Mr Shah urged the media not to disclose names of the coronavirus patient and suspects.

“In these cases, confidentiality is very important but we [the media and social media] have disclosed the names of family members of the patient,” he said.

Replying to a question, the chief minister said officially the federal government had closed its border with Iran but “ours is a porous border and movement of people could not be stopped easily, thus, I would speak to the federal government to take necessary measures,” he said.

Helpline

The chief minister told reporters that a 24/7 control room-cum-helpline had been established at the office of the Karachi commissioner.

The phone numbers of the helpline are: 021-99203443, 021-9920440, 0316-0111712.

The health department has also notified District Rapid Response Teams under district health officers.

Health Minister Azra Pechuho, Information Minister Nasir Shah, Adviser to CM on Law Murtaza Wahab, Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah, DG Rangers Maj Gen Omar Ahmed Bukhari, COS 5-Corps Brig Abdul Sami, the health secretary, commissioner of Karachi, Colonel Nasir of 5-Corps, FIA director Munir Shaikh, deputy DG Airport Services Amir Mahmood, director of Airport Service Imran Ahmed, chief medical officer of CAA Dr Khurram, Vice Chancellor of the Jinnah Sindh Medical University Prof Tariq Rafi, Dr Naseem Salahuddin of the Indus Hospital, JPMC executive director Dr Seemin Jamali and others attended the meeting.

Health dept to collect blood samples

The health department would collect blood samples of all Sindh-based passengers who recently returned to Karachi from Iran by the flight the coronavirus patient was travelling in, officials said on Wednesday.

Over 200 passengers, they said, were on the flight.

“The department has received an advisory from the federal government under which a process to contact and collect blood samples of all Sindh-based passengers who travelled with the coronavirus patient would start today,” said Atif Vighio, a health department spokesperson, adding that the department had issued directives to the health officers concerned in this regard.

A copy of the passenger list showed that though the majority of the passengers had their residences in Sindh’s districts, some of them lived in Punjab and Balochistan.

“We appeal to all people, who may have had contact with these passengers or recently returned from China, to come forward and report to the health department helpline (021-99203443, 021-99204405) or at a hospital if they developed coronavirus symptoms,” said an official, adding that the department would bear treatment cost.

Meanwhile, there was panic at Karachi University on Thursday where the coronavirus patient is a student and reportedly attended a few classes on the KU campus after returning from Iran.

“We came to know that he is a coronavirus patient late Wednesday night and decided not to suspend morning classes as it would have created panic on the campus,” said KU student adviser Asim Ali, adding that the university suspended evening classes and would be closed on Friday.

The university, he said, was trying to contact the health department and had asked the 44 students as well as the relevant faculty members to have a blood test if they developed coronavirus symptoms.

The health department also issued an advisory to all its officers on the standard operating procedures for handling coronavirus patients.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2020