Pakistan closes western borders, bans public gatherings as coronavirus cases rise to 28

Published March 13, 2020
Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza (C) addresses a press conference on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza (C) addresses a press conference on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Imran  Khan chaired the meeting which the provincial chief ministers and civil and the military leadership also attended. — Photo courtesy: PM Office
Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired the meeting which the provincial chief ministers and civil and the military leadership also attended. — Photo courtesy: PM Office

The National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday decided to take a number of steps to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country, including closing the border with Iran and Afghanistan and banning all large public gatherings.

The high-level NSC meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was attended by the provincial chief ministers and the civilian and military leadership.

Major decisions taken by the NSC:

  • Border with Iran, Afghanistan to be closed for two weeks
  • Schools shut until April 5
  • Large public gatherings including weddings banned for two weeks
  • International flights to operate only from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad
  • Pakistan Day parade cancelled
  • Remaining PSL matches to take place in empty stadiums

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and other government officials detailed the decisions taken by the body at a press conference, with Mirza revealing that Pakistan now has 28 cases of COVID-19.

"There is a lot of speculation about the total number of cases in the country. However, I can confirm that Pakistan has 28 cases of coronavirus," said Mirza, who was accompanied by government spokesperson Firdous Ashiq Awan and PM's Special Assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yousuf.

He said the seven new cases had all been reported in Taftan among Pakistani pilgrims who have returned from Iran. All seven people are stable and recovering.

Mirza announced that Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and Iran will be closed "completely" for two weeks, following which the situation will be reviewed. During this period, the system for screening and preventing further infections from entering the country will be made stronger.

He said the first batch of pilgrims who have returned to the country from Iran has left for provinces after completing its 14-day quarantine period at the Taftan border. The details of these pilgrims will be provided to the provincial governments, which can test or place the pilgrims under quarantine again.

It was decided during the meeting that only three airports in the country — Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore — will be allowed to operate international flights, a move intended to reduce the entry points and ensure better arrangements there.

Mirza said all large public gatherings will be banned, including weddings and conferences, for a period of two weeks. Cinemas will also be closed while all remaining Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 matches will take place in empty stadiums.

The matter of whether religious congregations should be banned has been referred to the religious affairs minister and the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology. They have been tasked with consulting with all stakeholders and give their advice to the government based on which a decision will be taken, Mirza said.

Schools closed

It was decided to close all educational institutions in the country for three weeks. Education minister Shafqat Mehmood tweeted that schools will remain shut until April 5.

Mirza said the government will also request the chief justice to close civil courts and adjourn cases for a period of three weeks. Judicial magistrates and judges of sessions courts will be requested to decide criminal cases within jails while relatives of prisoners will not be able to meet them for three weeks in jails.

A media campaign will be started to brief the public regarding coronavirus prevention measures and a system will be established to prevent misinformation and relay facts to the people from a "central" source.

In order to avoid a food shortage, Mirza said the Ministry of National Food Security and Research will be asked to come up with a contingency plan.

Answering a question, the PM's special assistant said the federal government will provide funds to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) while the provincial governments will fund the provincial disaster management authorities according to their financing needs.

Coordination committee formed

Mirza said today's was the first NSC meeting ever held to address a health emergency.

He said Prime Minister Imran had termed the well being of people his "foremost priority" and therefore the government was closely monitoring the evolving situation.

The premier said it was due to the "timely and appropriate" measures taken by the government that Pakistan was the last country in the region to report COVID-19 cases, according to Mirza.

The NSC decided to form a high-level National Coordination Committee for COVID-19. It will comprise federal ministers; chief ministers; chairman of the disaster management authority; representatives of ISPR, ISI director general and DG military operations; and will have the health minister (Mirza) as its convener.

The NDMA has been given the role of the lead operational agency to deal with the coronavirus threat. Officials told DawnNewsTV that the NDMA will coordinate with the provincial governments to streamline the efforts.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told DawnNewsTV that the 23rd March parade has also been cancelled.

Officials said foreign missions in Pakistan and Pakistan's missions abroad have been directed not to host any ceremonies or functions.

A system for coordination between the federal and provincial governments will also be established, the sources said.

Read our live updates on the coronavirus here.

No emergency declared

Yusuf while addressing the presser clarified that the government has not imposed an emergency to deal with the coronavirus threat. He asked the public not to spread panic.

He announced that Pakistani citizens will not be allowed to travel to Kartarpur to visit the Sikh holy site of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib. However, Indian pilgrims will be allowed to visit the site through the border corridor.

Seaports will remain functional, but screening measures there will be enhanced, Yusuf said.

'Important decisions'

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Awan earlier in the day had said that "important decisions" for the protection of the people will be taken during a special meeting of the NSC regarding coronavirus.

"Our primary responsibility is the protection and well-being of Pakistanis," she said, adding that measures to make the country safe from the effects of the virus will be taken.

Awan said the purpose of the meeting was to unite the entire country on the important issue of coronavirus and that the huddle is "part of national efforts to ensure harmony and contain coronavirus".

So far 21 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the country — 15 in Sindh, one in Balochistan and five in Gilgit Baltistan. The latest case was confirmed in Sindh earlier today in a 52-year-old patient who arrived in the province from Islamabad two days ago and tested positive on Friday.



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