QUETTA: Pakistan has decided to close its border with Afghanistan at Chaman from Monday (today) morning in view of the reports about new coronavirus cases in the neighbouring country.
The government of Sindh, where at least two patients have tested positive for the virus, has decided to keep educational institutions closed across the province till March 13.
In Chagai district, at least 1,300 Pakistani citizens, including 1,034 pilgrims, returned to the country and eight Iranian nationals left for home after crossing Pak-Iran border in Taftan on Sunday.
Initially, the Pak-Afghan border at Chaman would remain closed for one week and no one would be allowed to cross the border from either side, a senior security official said.
The Afghan government had been informed about this decision of the Pakistan government, he added.
Educational institutions in Sindh to remain closed till 13th; 1,300 Pakistanis return from Iran via Taftan border
The decision has been made by the interior ministry after receiving information about detection of some coronavirus cases in the neighbouring country.
The interior ministry said in a notification issued on Sunday: “The competent authority has decided to close Pak-Afghan border at Chaman, w.e.f 2nd March 2020 for an initial period of 7 days in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus on both sides of the border in the best interest of the people (of the two) brotherly countries. During the period, necessary measures will be taken to safeguard the health of the people of both countries.”
“There will be no activities at Pak-Afghan border at Chaman as the Friendship Gate [border crossing point] will remain closed for a week,” a senior security official deployed at the border said. Supplies for US and Nato forces deployed in Afghanistan and Afghan transit trade would remain suspend during that period, he added.
The immigration officials said that the immigration office would remain closed and no one would be allowed to cross into Pakistan from across the border.
Vehicles carrying Afghan transit trade goods and Nato supplies, which reached Chaman on Sunday, have been shifted to a safe place at the Customs House yard.
About 7,000 to 8,000 people cross the border from both sides on daily basis to pursue trade and business activities in Chaman and Afghan border town of Vesh.
The security forces deployed at the border have adopted extra security measures after the border closure.
Meanwhile, an informal meeting of the commanders of both sides was held at the Friendship Gate in which Pakistani security officials told their Afghan counterparts about the decision of the border closure. However, the Afghan security officials asked the Pakistan officials to inform the Afghan government in Kabul about the decision as the former had not received any instruction from Kabul about closing border so far.
The officials of health department said that during the border closure, doctors and other medical staff deployed at Pak-Afghan border would stay in Chaman.
The Provincial Disaster Management Authority and the health debarment have already established isolation wards at Chaman to lodge suspected patients.
However, during the last one week no one coming from Afghanistan has been found infected with coronavirus during screening process. “We have screened over 10,000 people who crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and none of them was found infected with the virus,” a health official told Dawn.
Pakistan has already sealed its border with Iran on Feb 23 following outbreak of coronavirus in Iran causing deaths in Qom and some other cities of Iran.
Meanwhile, the Balochistan education department, which has ordered closure of government and private schools till March 15, has also postponed ongoing secondary school examinations for an indefinite period.
Return from Iran
In Chagai district, at least 1,300 Pakistani citizens, including 1,034 pilgrims, returned to the country from Iran and eight Iranian nationals left for their county after crossing Pak-Iran border at Taftan on Sunday.
According to official sources, the returning Pakistani citizens were screened by health teams deputed at the border. Levies officials said that the pilgrims were kept in quarantine while other people were allowed to proceed to their hometowns.
Meanwhile 31 other Pakistani citizens were also allowed to return from Iran after crossing the Raahdari Gate in Taftan as local administrations of both countries have decided to reopen the gate for three days to allow the stranded people on both sides to return to their countries.
These people were screened by the health teams and then allowed to proceed to their hometowns.
Raahdari Gate is used by the residents of the border areas of the two countries who travel to Iran and Pakistan to visit their relatives after getting a 15-day special permit.
Earlier on Friday and Saturday, the authorities have allowed over 1,150 Pakistanis to cross the border at Taftan and return to the country. They have been kept them in quarantine for a week or more.
Separately, 131 Pakistani citizens were deported by Iranian authorities and handed over to Levies Force in Taftan on Sunday.
According to official sources, these Pakistanis were living in different parts of Iran without having legal documents. They were handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency for interrogation.
In Karachi, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, while presiding over a meeting of the Task Force on coronavirus, ordered to keep all educational institutions, including tuition and coaching centres, across the province closed till March 13, the deadline for completion of the isolation period of suspected patients of coronavirus.
The CM said strict action would be taken against those educational institutions who defied the order, which was important in the times of an emergency.
In Punjab, the health department has started screening pilgrims who have recently come from Iran.
“We have carried out screening of 58 pilgrims and none of them has been infected with coronavirus,” Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Faheem Khan said. However, they would remain under observation, Deputy District Officer health Dr Sara Qadeer said.
Meanwhile, the tehsil administration of Pindigheab has also initiated screening of Chinese nationals working at various petroleum exploration sites in the area.
Ali Raza Rind in Chagai, Hasan Mansoor in Karachi and Amjad Iqbal in Taxila also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2020