Coordination between Centre, provinces lacking on coronavirus: Sindh spokesman

Published March 11, 2020
Spokesperson for the Sindh government Barrister Murtaza Wahab addresses a press conference on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV/File
Spokesperson for the Sindh government Barrister Murtaza Wahab addresses a press conference on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV/File

Spokesperson for the Sindh government, Barrister Murtaza Wahab on Wednesday said the coordination that should have existed between the federal and the provincial governments with regards to coronavirus, was lacking.

So far 20 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Pakistan — 15 of which have emerged in Sindh. One of the patients has recovered.

Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Wahab said the federal government needed to improve its virus monitoring system at airports, adding that the provincial government lacked jurisdiction to take measures at ports.

He said the approximately 2,300 people who had entered the province were contacted and wherever required, were tested by the Sindh government.

"Those who tested positive were immediately shifted to isolation wards and their contacts were quarantined and even today we are monitoring this," the Sindh government's spokesperson said.

"But, unfortunately, there is a bit of a shortcoming in the federal government's responsibility in this regard," he said, adding: "Once again, I would like to appeal to the federal government, to further improve this system and make it effective."

Wahab offered the provincial government's complete cooperation in this regard.

"I believe that all these patients entered through Karachi airport which is why we need to improve the surveillance at airports."

He said the Sindh government and the chief minister had been "on ground" since the first case was detected and was vigilant, as opposed to other provinces' authorities.

He told reporters that the Sindh chief minister chaired a meeting of the coronavirus task force — which includes members of airport authorities as well as officials of the Federal Investigation Agency — every evening.

"Unfortunately, that response has not been seen from the federal government," Wahab added. He said that monitoring surveillance on airports is outside the jurisdiction of the provincial government and urged the federal authorities to step up.

Pointing to the federal government's lukewarm response in light of the crisis, Wahab said CM Shah had to "contact the prime minister's special assistant to engage with all the provinces via a conference call".

"On the Sindh chief minister's request a meeting was held," he said, adding that no other provincial chief executive attended the meeting. Wahab also raised questions over steps taken by other provinces' governments, saying that the coronavirus case which was detected in Quetta yesterday was under quarantine and was transferred to the city in order to be tested.

"Quarantine was broken in order for the child to be tested," he told reporters, adding that it was "the responsibility of the federal government to provide testing facilities on the border". The spokesperson said that he did not want to play a "blame game" and was just telling the nation the "facts" of the matter.

He also urged the media not to share the personal details of the patients diagnosed with the virus, saying that the government was not disclosing their identities either.

"It is our basic duty to protect other people's privacy," he said.

Responding to a question, Wahab said a decision regarding extending the period of closure of academic institutions will be taken in the coming days. Addressing the government's decision to allow Pakistan Super League matches to take place, he said that it was a "choice" of the people to attend the contests.

He assured that the government was pulling all the stops to control the situation and told people not to panic.

PM's aide downplays criticism

When asked about Wahab's criticism, Spe­cial Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza said that while there were shortcomings, the government was doing all it could to prevent the virus from spreading. He pointed out that two weeks ago, a screening system did not even exist.

While addressing allegations regarding the screening systems installed at airports on DawnNewsTV's programme News Wise, Mirza admitted that the matter was the Centre's responsibility and added: "Since this is an emergency situation, we requested provincial governments that we (federal government) have less personnel [...] this is a national emergency, let's join hands. And appreciably, all provinces, Sindh included, contributed (by appointing provincial employees) and they have reinforced our ports of entries."

He lauded the Sindh government for "working responsibly", but negated Wahab's claims that other provinces were not taking the matter seriously.

Mirza said that most of the cases had emerged in Karachi because it was the busiest airport of the country and receives many international travellers. He told DawnNewsTV that every passenger was being screened and anyone who showed symptoms of the virus was being isolated, adding that patients diagnosed with coronavirus had not shown any symptoms when they were screened at the airports.

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