Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid on Friday said that out of 48 suspected coronavirus cases in the province, 44 persons had tested negative and had been sent home. She was speaking at a news conference in Lahore to give updates on the situation.
She added that three more of the suspected cases tested negative on Friday while the result of one of them was awaited.
Talking about pilgrims who had returned to Punjab from Iran, she said that out of "3,056 pilgrims, 2,700 have been screened and sent home" and another "2,500 people are under quarantine at the Taftan border."
Dismissing rumours that the Punjab government is not prepared to deal with the virus, she said: "We have formed a new technical team, even now it is having a meeting at Chief Minister House to decide when to establish red lines such as at what number of cases we will ban public gatherings and close schools." She added that more than 10,000 people have been trained to deal with possible coronavirus cases.
Rashid said that China had managed to control the spread of the virus only through "restriction of movement". She added that the Punjab government is creating a strategy to prevent an outbreak. "We receive a report after every four hours and our surveillance centre is operating 24 hours a day."
She said that the provincial government had dedicated three hospitals for coronavirus in the province — the Rawalpindi Institute of Urology and Transplantation, which is fully equipped with ventilators, medicines, masks and other protective equipment, Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Muzaffargarh and Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute in Lahore. She further said that a High Dependency Unit is present and rules for isolation are in place in every district of Punjab.
"We have a level-3 lab which is equipped with diagnostic kits and we have ordered additional diagnostic kits. Kits are also available at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer and Research Hospital for free testing. We have also talked with Chughtai Lab for more tests [if the number of suspected patients rises]," she added.
She said that the "condition is such that we will hopefully be able to handle the situation".
Sharing protection measures, the health minister said that "there is only one way to protect yourself from this disease — cleanliness, personal hygiene and washing hands." She advised people not to shake hands until the threat of the virus declines and to reduce touching their face.
She iterated that "not everybody has to wear masks. Only those who have cough should wear masks to stop the spread of droplets and those caring for them should wear [the masks]."
She sought to calm people's fears about the disease. "[The virus] started in China and has spread to 82 countries ... but the important news is that 50,000 people have recovered and have been sent home.
"It is a difficult situation because its transmission is very quick but people should remember that its fatality rate is around three per cent. This is not like the earlier SARS virus," she said.
In his remarks, Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said that the government has started an information campaign about the virus and has made clerics and schoolteachers a part of it.
Rashid added that small booklets have been distributed in schools and college students have been informed about the virus. She said mosques have also been instructed to inform worshippers about protection measures.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported 44 people as having tested negative for the coronavirus in Punjab. The number is actually 47. The error is regretted.