Experts stress strategy for slowing down spread of coronavirus

Published March 17, 2020
Experts address the press conference at AKU on Monday.—White Star
Experts address the press conference at AKU on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: The coronavirus would spread as has happened in other countries. But the strategy of the government is to slow down this process so the public health system is not suddenly overwhelmed by a large number of patients, said experts at a press conference held at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) on Monday.

“There is difference in responses each country has shown to the disease outbreak. We have our own set of challenges and responded accordingly,” said infectious diseases expert Dr Faisal Mahmood, adding that recent government measures such as closure of educational institutions and banning large public gatherings were meant to contain the virus spread.

The problem, however, was that it was not known yet which phase the virus was at presently; there were low, high and peak phases when a disease outbreak occurred, he explained.

Dr Mahmood described measures taken so far by the federal and provincial governments as positive and said experts from the private sector were working closely with the government for consultation and staff training.

‘There are government-designated centres where tests are being done for free’

He, however, did not comment when asked whether it was an appropriate strategy of the government to transport pilgrims returning in their hundreds from Iran, a large number of whom tested positive for the virus at a Sukkur facility instead of quarantining them at a Balochistan health facility.

Expensive test

According to Dr Mahmood, the age factor has a link with the severity of the disease as people less than 40 years of age have reported mild illness and shown recovery without much medical assistance.

The experts talked in detail about the hospital’s facilities and initiatives taken to properly deal with the new disease outbreak, including its policy of one attendant with one patient and establishment of an emergency command centre.

The hospital was engaged with international experts on the subject before the infection was reported in Pakistan, they said.

About the COVID-19 PCR test for which the hospital is charging Rs7,900, it was explained it covered only the cost of conducting the test required reagents and that the hospital was conducting free of cost test for those patients who reported with a government reference letter. Their tests were done on the testing kits provided free by the government (which were limited in number).

“There are government-designated centres where tests are being done for free. These facilities should be the first choice (of people),” said dean of the Aga Khan Medical College Dr Adil Haider.

He urged journalists to help create the much-needed awareness of the subject and verify information/reports circulating on social media through credible sources.

In reply to a question, it was stated that a number of people worried over the situation were reporting at the hospital to get tested for the virus. But only a few actually required the test.

The experts emphasised the need for preventive measures, including maintaining social distancing, avoiding crowds, frequent hand-washing and wearing surgical mask if someone was sick.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2020

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