Clockwise: Karachi Port looks deserted on Thursday amid virtual lockdown because of COVID-19. In Islamabad, daily wage earners wait for customers. People gather outside a factory in the Korangi area of Karachi to buy wheat flour at subsidised rates. A health official checks the body temperature of passengers at Karachi Cantonment railway station. Commuters are perturbed over the shortage of public transport on a road in Karachi.—White Star / Online / PPI
Clockwise: Karachi Port looks deserted on Thursday amid virtual lockdown because of COVID-19. In Islamabad, daily wage earners wait for customers. People gather outside a factory in the Korangi area of Karachi to buy wheat flour at subsidised rates. A health official checks the body temperature of passengers at Karachi Cantonment railway station. Commuters are perturbed over the shortage of public transport on a road in Karachi.—White Star / Online / PPI

• Shopping malls, hotels, weekly bazaars closed in Islamabad
• Hotels to be used as quarantine facilities
• Standard operating procedure to be developed for burials

ISLAMABAD: While the number of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country has reached 453 with two casualties, the federal government has taken some major decisions to control the spread of the deadly virus i.e. sealing the Wagah border, taking initial steps towards what could result in lockdown of Islamabad through closure of public places and reducing staff in government offices.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has directed the chief secretaries of the four provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to set up quarantine centres at three- and four-star hotels.

The decision to move towards widespread shutdown of the capital was made at a meeting held here on Thursday with Deputy Commissioner of Islamabad Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat in the chair. The meeting also decided to convert selected hotels and motels into quarantine facilities.

It was decided to close shopping malls, hotels and weekly bazaars to avoid public gatherings in the wake of coronavirus threat. The meeting also decided to put restriction on the worshippers coming to mosques and churches to offer prayers.

Deputy Commissioner Sha­fqaat told Dawn that the entry of elders and children into the places of worship would be restricted. Besides, those who will enter the places of worship for prayers would be asked to take precautionary measures, including wearing face masks.

The meeting was held to finalise preventive measures regarding COVID-19 in Islamabad.

Under the decisions made at the meeting, all private and public hospitals would establish isolation wards with necessary equipments, the DC said, adding that the district health officer of the capital administration, the District Health Service of Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation and all private and public hospital were also asked to establish a rapid response unit to take quick action when suspected cases of COVID-19 appeared.

All hospitals were also asked to ensure provision of personal protective equipment to their staff dealing with COVID-19 patients. A meeting would be held with the administrators of all hospitals on daily basis.

A standard operating procedure will be developed for burial of COVID-19 patients to avoid spread of infection, the DC said.

Besides, all hospitals have been asked to nominate focal persons for COVID-19 and share a detailed report with the capital administration on daily basis, including the number of suspected cases, confirmed cases and quarantine cases reported during the last 24 hours and contact details of confirmed patients.

A government official, requesting anonymity, said that the government offices such as NADRA and Passport Office would remain closed for 15 days and it would be ensured that restaurants were closed at 10pm.

Meanwhile, NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal has written a letter to the provincial authorities asking them to take urgent measures to deal with the COVID-19 challenge.

An official said the NDMA had taken the deputy commissioners across the country on board, particularly over vacation of three and four star hotels for establishing quarantine centres there. The stay of regular tenants at the hotels will cease till the emergency exists and one person one room policy will be adopted for each traveller.

According to a document of the Ministry of Interior, available with Dawn, the director general of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) has been informed that the authorities have decided to seal the Wagha border initially for two weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the best interest of both countries.

During a press conference jointly held by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAPM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and DG of ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, the nation was asked to unite to defeat the deadly virus.

Ms Awan said that it was decided not to invite media persons in such press conferences and telecast it through PTV to give a message that gatherings should be avoided.

Dr Mirza said that it had been decided to learn from the experience of China, which had controlled the disease.

“The disease has spread in 176 countries and so far over 220,000 people have been infected. In Pakistan a national Dashboard has been established to enable people to get authentic information about the cases of COVID-19,” he said.

According to the Dashboard available on the website of the health ministry, 326 cases have been reported across the country: 213 in Sindh, 37 in Balochistan,33 in Punjab, 23 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 in Gilgit Baltistan 12, seven in Islamabad and one case in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It also shows two deaths caused by the virus. Meanwhile, 230,000 people have been infected with virus and over 9,000 have died across the globe.

Dr Mirza said that all chief ministers had nominated focal persons who were sharing information with the Control and Command Centre.

“Most of the private hospitals have closed their out-patient departments (OPDs). I advise people not to go to hospitals for minor health issues,” he said.

The ISPR DG said as per the decision of the National Security Committee, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had directed all army formations to cooperate with civil administration wherever required.

“We are supporting civil administration in establishing quarantine centres,” he said.

Moreover Secretary of Information Technology and Telecommunication Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui said that the ministry would develop a mobile application to deal with the coronavirus situation with the help of technology.

AJK Health Minister Dr Najeeb Naqi Khan said at a news conference that 11 fresh samples of suspected patients had been sent to National Institute of Health (NIH). Of these, nine suspects had been kept in isolation ward of Abbas Institute of Medical Sciences, Muzaffarabad, and one each in Combined Military Hospital, Rawalakot, and Divisional Headquarters Hospital, Mirpur.

Earlier, samples of 25 suspects had been sent for screening, of which 22 were cleared and one tested positive, he said. “We are waiting for the results of two previous and 11 fresh cases,” Mr Khan said.

Moreover eight new coronavirus patients were identified in Gilgit Baltistan on Thursday, according to a press release issued by GB information department. The patients have been shifted to isolation wards from quarantine centres.

The press release said as a large number of pilgrims had returned from Iran, the GB government had established quarantine centres in Gilgit, Skardu and Nagar.

The samples of suspected patients have been tested in the District Headquarters Hospital, Gilgit. Earlier samples were sent to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad.

The patients of coronavirus were being treated by an expert doctor, the press release said.

Tariq Naqash from Muzaffarabad and Jamil Nagri from Gilgit also contributed to this story

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2020