ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza on Wednesday rejected a perception that the government was underreporting confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country due to the Pakistan Super League (PSL) cricket tournament.
“This is 100 per cent false. There is no alarming situation in the country regarding coronavirus. More than 200 patients tested for the virus but only five confirmed coronavirus patients reported and they are recovering fast,” Dr Mirza said while talking to reporters at Rawalpindi Medical University (RMU) after attending the opening ceremony of a two-day conference on family medicine.
He said the government had adopted standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain the pandemic to some extent. He said there was a dire need for precautionary measures at the individual level to avoid such virus, expressing the hope that coordinated efforts by the federal and provincial governments would bring better results to contain coronavirus.
According to AFP, the virus has shuttered factories, disrupted travel, infected over 93,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,200, mainly in China, while some countries are struggling to test for and contain the spread of the illness.
COVID-19 shutters factories, disrupts travel and infects over 93,000 people worldwide
That has spurred global policymakers to come out in force to mitigate the damage, including an emergency, half-point cut in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve on Tuesday, followed by a similar cut by the Bank of Canada on Wednesday.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva on Wednesday called for an all-out, “no regrets” response to the epidemic which poses a “serious threat” to the global economy. “At a time of uncertainty... it is better to do more than to do not enough,” she said, warning that the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will slow growth in the world economy to below the 2.9 per cent posted last year.
The epidemic “is no longer a regional issue, it is a global problem calling for global response,” Ms Georgieva told reporters.
In reply to a question about closure of educational institutions in Islamabad and federal areas, Dr Mirza said the federal government had not yet taken such a decision. However, he said, the provincial governments were independent to take decision to close schools and the Centre had no objection.
Answering the question about the ban on Pakistanis in China from coming back to the country, he said there was no such ban on the Pakistanis except those residing in Wuhan where the outbreak of COVID-19 was first reported. He said there were 1,094 Pakistani students in Wuhan and 620 in other provinces of China, adding that the government was in touch with the students and was doing whatever it could for their well-being in coordination with the Chinese government. He said they had not been brought back due to respect of regulations of the Chinese government.
The PM’s assistant said effective measures had been adopted for the scanning of people coming from abroad. “Scanners have been installed at airports and land routes in the country. We keep a vigilant eye on visitors,” he said.
Free testing facility
Executive Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) Maj Gen Aamir Ikram said free of cost testing facility had been introduced in five cities and soon it would be provided to another two cities.
“Earlier samples were sent to the NIH Islamabad for testing; however, now such facility has been provided in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar,” he said, while talking to Dawn.
Replying to a question, he said that in Karachi the suspects of coronavirus could be tested at the Aga Khan University Hospital. “In Quetta and Lahore, such facility has been provided at public health labs and in Peshawar at Khyber Medical University. Soon testing facility will be introduced in Gilgit and Muzaffarabad.”
Dr Ikram said that though the testing facility was being provided free of cost across the country, in some cases people reached private hospitals and insisted on the test for COVID-19. “So in such cases we cannot waste the public money on them and suggest to them that they will have to pay for it. Similarly, we have advised private hospitals that such persons should be charged for tests,” he said.
He said that a level-III mobile lab had been procured due to which it had become possible to get people tested anywhere in the country.
“Situation is under control and will be normalised in coming days. We had dealt with the issue of China successfully, but unfortunately the virus travelled from Iran to Pakistan…and around 7,000 pilgrims reached Pakistan. However, now we have even covered that side and a few more cases can be reported and after that the situation would be completely under control,” Dr Ikram claimed.
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2020