ISLAMABAD: With Gilgit reporting another case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), taking the tally to 20 in Pakistan, and Sindh taking significant measures aimed at halting the spread of the deadly virus, the prime minister called a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday (today) to discuss the worsening situation.
Hours after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, the Sindh government decided that all PSL matches in the National Stadium, Karachi, would be played without spectators and all educational institutions in the province — which were to reopen on March 16 — would remain closed until May 30.
• Another case reported from Gilgit
• PSL matches in Karachi will be played in empty stadium
• Educational institutions in Sindh shut till May 30
• Fewer applications received for Haj
• Saudi Arabia closes visa section in Pakistan
In a late-night development, the Prime Minister Office said that 894,256 travellers have been screened for symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Out of these, 471 have been tested for the virus.
In a tweet quoting data from the National Institute of Health, the PMO confirmed that of those tested, 20 people — not 21 as earlier reported — had tested positive till now. The number includes two persons who have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, according to a Dawn.com report.
According to data available on the NIH website, of the 20 cases, 14 are from Sindh, five from Gilgit-Baltistan and one from Balochistan.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia, while directing its citizens and valid Iqama holders to return within 72 hours, has decided to close its visa section in Pakistan.
“The NSC meeting would be chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and participated by the chief of army staff, representatives of provinces and other stakeholders. The meeting may decide to impose sort of emergency or indirect emergency in the country,” Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza told Dawn.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), requesting not to be named, said there was criticism that the prime minister was not playing a leading role over the issue.
“However now the meeting of the most relevant body has been called to discuss the issue and it is expected that it will decide that the federal government will provide funds for controlling the virus. Last week, a summary was moved by Dr Mirza, seeking allocation of Rs 670 million and the waiving off the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules so that personal protective equipment could be procured without any delay. However, the summary was rejected as the cabinet was of the view that the provinces should also contribute funds,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a meeting with a delegation of Facebook International, Dr Mirza requested removal of improper suggestions about protection from the virus from the social media site. He said that in Pakistan there were 41 million users of Facebook and therefore the social media site should also take steps to raise public awareness.
The delegation assured the SAPM that all possible steps would be taken to address the issue, a statement of the Ministry of NHS said.
The latest case of coronavirus in Pakistan was reported from Gilgit as a 31- year-old man, a resident of Shigar district who had travelled to Iran, has been confirmed with the virus.
In Karachi, Chief Minister of Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, while presiding over a meeting of the Task Force on Coronavirus at the CM House on Thursday, said that all the PSL matches in the National Stadium would be played without spectators.
“A high risk is involved in allowing spectators to gather in the stadium to witness the matches and we can’t put everyone at the risk, therefore matches would be held without spectators,” he said.
The decision will come into effect from Friday. On Thursday the local government issued an advisory urging the spectators, who had been allowed into the stadium to watch the match between Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars, to continue taking necessary precautionary measures for better protection of themselves, players and officials.
In the meantime, the Pakistan Cricket Board has said the refunding of tickets would be done in line with the ticketing policy and the money would be refunded through TCS and www.yayvo.com.
Also, the Sindh government decided to keep all educational institutions across the province closed for another two-and-a-half months while cancelling scheduled matriculation examination.
“The Sindh cabinet in its urgent meeting has decided to close all educational institutions across the province till May 30 under summer vacations. The exams for class IX and X, scheduled to start from March 16, have also been cancelled,” Sindh education minister tweeted after the cabinet meeting.
A brief statement from the CM House said the decision was made following advice from the health experts which recommended closure of the educational institutions as a key precautionary measure.
An official said that provincial ministers agreed that the summer vacations which were scheduled between May 15 and July 15 had been called earlier and new session would now begin after the vacations in June 2020.
In Islamabad, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) also came up with its stance over coronavirus preventive measures and rejected the statements and decrees issued by certain clerics against quarantine and even restrictions made by the Saudi authorities over travel to Makkah and Madina.
Addressing a press conference, CII Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz said the council supported measures taken by the authorities over coronavirus and it was the need of hour to follow instructions of the doctors to keep people safe.
He said in the light the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), there were clear instructions regarding precautionary measures in case of certain diseases, and the CII had passed a resolution in this regard.
Dr Ayaz said the people living in areas where there was such an outbreak should not go anywhere else and residents of safe areas should avoid going to affected areas.
Minister for Religious Affairs Dr Noorul Haq Qadri said that fewer applications had been received for Haj this year due to the fear of coronavirus.
Announcing the Haj balloting, he said a total of 149,295 applications had been received by various banks for the government scheme from Feb 25 to March 8.
Dr Qadri said he was in touch with the Saudi authorities over coronavirus threats and that the Saudi government had assured that so far it was proceedings with the Haj arrangements.
Meanwhile, an official of the ministry said that there was a chance that some successful applicants might back off if coronavirus scare did not subside in coming weeks.
This year Pakistan’s Hajj quota is 179,210 out of which 60 per cent -- 107,526 pilgrims -- will avail government quota and the remaining 71,684 would go to Saudi Arabia private Haj operators.
WHO to seek donations
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom will launch on Friday the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, the first-of-its-kind fund for companies, foundations and individuals to donate to the UN agency to strengthen its global response to the ongoing outbreak, according to an official statement.
“The fund is expected to attract millions of dollars in contributions from major companies and will become the leading mechanism worldwide for businesses, philanthropies, and individuals to contribute. WHO has anticipated a need of $675 million through April alone for preparedness and response efforts. As this outbreak evolves, funding needs are likely to increase,” the statement said.
While issuing an advisory, the WHO advised all countries to increase their level of preparedness, alert and response to identify, manage and care for new cases of COVID-19.
“Countries should prepare to respond to different public health scenarios, recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing cases and outbreaks of COVID-19. Each country should assess its risk and rapidly implement the necessary measures at the appropriate scale to reduce both COVID-19 transmission and economic, public and social impacts,” the statement said.
Tahir Siddiqui, Khalid H. Khan and Imran Ayub from Karachi, Jamil Nagri from Gilgit and Kalbe Ali from Islamabad also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2020