Balochistan reports first coronavirus case

Updated 11 Mar 2020

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Customers wearing facemasks as a prevention measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus buy corn from a street vendor (C) along a street in Karachi on March 10. — AFP
Customers wearing facemasks as a prevention measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus buy corn from a street vendor (C) along a street in Karachi on March 10. — AFP

QUETTA / KARACHI: Balochistan’s first coronavirus case was reported in Quetta on Tuesday while two more cases were detected in Sindh, raising the countrywide tally to 19.

Confirming the Quetta case, Dr Noorullah, Medical Superintendent of the Fatima Jinnah Hospital, said the patient was a 12-year-old boy who had travelled to Iran with his family and returned via the Taftan border crossing.

The boy has been admitted to the isolation ward of the hospital.

His family has also been screened but they tested negative for the virus.

Spokesperson for the Balochistan government Liaquat Shahwani said the infected child belonged to a family of Dadu, Sindh. “Their blood samples were sent to the laboratory because of the family’s history of travelling to coronavirus-infected areas in Iran and only a 12-year-old child was diagnosed with the disease.”

He said blood samples of the patient’s mother, aunts and three other children of the family were found negative for the virus.

Alarm bells ringing as two more cases are detected in Sindh and countrywide tally rises to 19

Meanwhile, the Sindh Health Department reported two more cases of coronavirus, raising the total tally to 15 in the province.

According to the department officials, one of the patients, a resident of Hyderabad, has arrived from Syria via Doha while the other has come from Iran via Dubai. He is a resident of Karachi.

“The department is in the process of tracking down all their contacts for testing. This brings the total number of cases to 15 in Sindh out of which one patient has fully recovered and has been discharged from hospital,” a health department statement said.

The department at a meeting chaired by the provincial health and population minister decided to set up its own health desk at the Karachi airport for screening incoming travellers for coronavirus.

“The present screening mechanism (put in place by the federal government) is not satisfactory as we have missed several patients who later reported at hospitals when they experienced symptoms of the viral infection,” said a health department official on the condition of anonymity, when asked about the need for a separate desk.

Of the nine cases diagnosed a day earlier, he pointed out, four patients with fever were detected at the airport whereas the rest reported later at hospitals when they developed signs and symptoms.

“Right now, we are missing those patients who have been infected but are yet to show the disease symptoms. Apparently, air travellers are not being interviewed and examined properly,” he said, describing the present screening system at the airport as faulty.

Experts say symptoms of the coronavirus appear in most infected patients within three to five days whereas the maximum incubation period of the virus is 14 days.

The meeting, the spokesperson said, also decided to direct all private and public sector hospitals to establish an information desk on coronavirus.

He said stringent measures like ban on large gatherings could not be agreed upon as officials felt that there was no such need right now as there had not been any case of locally borne infection.

In a public message, Sindh Health and Population Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho said the government was pursuing a containment policy to restrict the spread of coronavirus.

“So far, we haven’t got any case of local infection as all patients had a history of travelling to high risk countries. Currently, we are hospitalising coronavirus patients and quarantining their local contacts at home,” she said.

Though this strategy had been successful to some extent, people should avoid large gatherings and stay at home if they did not have any urgent need for going out, she added.

The minister hoped that coronavirus cases would reduce as weather conditions would get hotter.

Given the rise in coronavirus cases, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has advised the government, particularly the Sindh government, to increase the number of coronavirus diagnostic centres and advertise their facilities through the media.

“People should visit qualified doctors or government designated centres if they want to seek advice or require an examination for coronavirus. There is no need to panic but people must adhere to the basic protective measures including hand and respiratory hygiene.”

“If preventive measures are not adopted properly, the virus could spread rapidly and become a serious issue. So it is the right time to follow the hygiene rules and keep yourself, your families and surroundings clean in all respect.”

The PMA also asked the government not to stop the Pakistan Supper League (PSL) “because it is in the national interest of the country”.

“It (PSL) is boosting Pakistan’s soft image. The screening process (for the virus) should be done at the entry points of the cricket stadium. The Pakistan Cricket Board is also requested not to stop PSL or shift its matches from Karachi. We advise public to avoid large gatherings and prefer to watch these matches at home.”

Engro offices close

Meanwhile, the Engro Corporation has announced that it has closed its offices located in The Harbour Front building in Clifton as a precautionary measure after one of its employees tested positive for coronavirus.

In a statement, the company said the employee who was diagnosed with coronavirus had attended the office on March 6 “for only a few hours.”

“During the closure, the Engro offices would be disinfected while employees would continue to work from home. When the offices reopen on March 16, the employees would be screened for coronavirus’ symptoms as a precaution.”

The administration of Dolmen City, where the Harbour Front is located, also issued a statement saying that the mall and other offices situated in the building would remain open.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020