Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Tuesday urged residents to remain calm and take precautions, even as the number of coronavirus cases in the province rose to 15, with the first case outside Karachi being confirmed in Hyderabad.
Shah, who was chairing a meeting of the provincial task force on COVID-19, was informed that the 14 patients under treatment at various hospitals after testing positive are all recovering, according to information released by the Chief Minister's Office.
The meeting was told that samples of a further two suspected patients have been sent for testing and their results are awaited.
Out of the total 15 cases detected in Sindh so far, one patient was discharged after making a full recovery. A second "high risk" 67-year-old patient has also recovered and tested negative on Tuesday; he will be tested again tomorrow and is likely to be discharged from hospital, the meeting was told.
Officials revealed during the meeting that a total of 162 tests have so far been carried out in Sindh out of which 147 came out negative and 15 were positive.
Chief Minister Shah noted that all of the cases to have emerged in the province so far have been "imported".
“It means we will have to be more cautious in checking the passengers coming from Iran, Afghanistan, Italy and such other countries at the airport and the suspect(s), if any, must be quarantined there instead of bringing [them] to the city,” he said, according to a statement issued by his office.
Shah said the government will speed up its efforts to control the virus from spreading further.
"Nobody in Sindh needs to worry. By the blessing of Allah the situation is under control," he added, urging the public to take all necessary precautions to prevent infections.
It was pointed out during the meeting that 167 pilgrims who returned from Iran were in quarantine at their homes.
The chief minister observed that around 4,000 passengers land at Karachi airport every day, therefore arrangements for their screening must be made foolproof. He directed the chief secretary to talk to the federal government and request it to make quarantine arrangements at the airport for suspected cases of coronavirus.
“I want none of the passengers with pneumonia or coronavirus symptoms [to] be brought out of the airport and expose him/her to others,” he said, according to the press release.
The chief secretary told Shah that he was doubling the health department staff posted at the airport so that every incoming passenger could be checked properly.
The meeting decided that a health education and screening desk will be established at the immigration counters at Karachi airport. The World Health Organisation will also provide special training to health department officials and doctors and paramedical staff.
PSL matches in Karachi to be held as scheduled
During the meeting, Chief Minister Shah announced that the Pakistan Super League 2020 matches scheduled to be held in Karachi, starting from March 12, will go ahead as scheduled.
He directed the chief secretary and police chief to make necessary arrangements in this regard, including issuing an advisory for the spectators.
Shah also directed provincial minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah and Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shalwani to hold a meeting with PCB authorities and discuss all precautionary measures. He asked them to install hand wash and sanitiser boxes at the stadium and advise people with travel history of Iran not to visit the stadium.
Meanwhile, Sindh Minister for Information Nasir Shah also confirmed that PSL matches will be held as scheduled in Karachi.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting held to review preparations for the upcoming matches, he said "all arrangements are complete."
He said fumigation will be carried out at the National Stadium before the match starts and thermal screening will be done of spectators upon entry.
"The Sindh government is ready; matches will take place as per normal," he said, requesting people who have recently returned from Iran, China and Italy to avoid coming to the matches.
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The Pakistan Cricket Board had earlier said that it will follow the Sindh government's directives regarding future PSL matches scheduled to be held in Karachi.
"We will follow the Sindh government's directives. However, for now the matches are still scheduled for Karachi," a PCB spokesperson had told DawnNewsTV.
Health minister proposes ban on public gatherings
Earlier, as the total number of cases in Sindh rose to 15, the Sindh health department reportedly decided to suggest a number of measures to the provincial task force in order to deal with the threat of the virus.
Sindh Minister of Health and Population Welfare Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho during an internal department meeting on Tuesday, according to her media coordinator Meeran Yousuf, decided the following:
- Sindh Health Department will be setting up its own health desk and screening at the Karachi Airport to screen all the patients coming to the city
- All private and public hospitals will be setting up a frontline desk for information on coronavirus
- An advisory will be issued today to avoid large public gatherings
- It has been suggested to the chief minister to ban large public gatherings, like Pakistan Super League
- An advisory will be issued today for people to self-quarantine for 14 days if they have recently come to Karachi from a country with positive cases
- Gadap Hospital has been prepared and set up as an isolation facility for all confirmed positive cases
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been provided to all private hospitals on how to deal with a positive case
- Shutting down schools for a longer duration has been suggested to the CM
Yousuf said that the task force on coronavirus headed by Chief Minister Shah would take up these points in today's meeting and decide on the future course of action.
Although Shah during the task force meeting gave his approval for PSL matches in Karachi to be held as per schedule, there was no official word regarding extending the duration of schools' closure.
New cases emerge
A day prior, nine new cases were reported in Sindh — the highest of the epidemic since it was first detected in the country last month.
However, another two cases were reported in the province on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases in the country to 18.
"The first case is from Hyderabad and the patient arrived from Syria via Doha while the second case emerged in Karachi and the patient arrived from Iran via Dubai," tweeted Yousuf while confirming the two new cases.
Separately, Engro Corporation also released a statement saying that an employee in Karachi had tested positive for the coronavirus, adding that all employees will work from home for the next three days.
"Offices at the Harbour Front Building shall remain closed over the next three days, with business to resume on March 16," the statement said.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that the nine coronavirus cases confirmed on Monday evening are in a "stable clinical condition".
"Almost all of them are [asymptomatic]," he said on Twitter.
"They all had travel history and were picked up during contact tracing of an existing #COVID19 patient," Mirza said.
However, according to the Sindh health department, of the nine cases, 6 patients came from the same flight and remaining three from a different one.
"None of these cases are contacts of an already confirmed case," said the department in a tweet.
A day earlier, confirming the nine cases, the provincial health ministry said the department was in the process of tracking down all those with whom the patients came in contact recently for further testing.
“The Sindh health department has nine new cases of coronavirus in Karachi. Six patients came from Syria via Doha whereas the other three patients came from London via Dubai during the past week,” said a department statement issued late on Monday.