GUJRAT: The consistent arrival of overseas Pakistanis in the neighbouring Gujrat, Jhelum and Mandi Bahauddin districts is becoming a cause for concern for the local health authorities as well as the district administrations owing to the fear of them being suspected coronavirus patients.

Four confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported in Gujrat and Jhelum districts and all four were overseas Pakistanis who had arrived from Spain and the UK.

The three positive cases in Gujrat district included the first in the district -- a man -- and his 20-year-old son as well as another man, who all had returned from Spain. The first positive case kept meeting relatives and friends due to which the authorities faced the daunting task of locating the people he had met since he returned more than a week ago.

His contacts were found in Shadiwal and Dinga towns and Lundpur village of the district, Gujjar Khan city of Rawalpindi and Gakhar Mandi of Gujranwala. In the last three days, 32 of his contacts were quarantined and his son also later found infected with the virus.

On Friday, the local authorities cordoned off at least six houses in Gumti village of Dinga to quarantine the contacts of the first positive case, while his family members had already been quarantined.

Official sources said that the man had bypassed screening at the Islamabad airport by paying Rs6,000 as bribe. His relative who received him at the airport told authorities that he was suffering from high fever when he landed in Islamabad.

In Jhelum, a 75-year-old expatriate returning from the UK tested positive for coronavirus. Initially, the health authorities did not trust the man when he reported himself due to which he got his tests conducted from a national laboratory that confirmed him as positive. The authorities then shifted the man to an isolation ward and his contacts have been quarantined.

At least 1,500 expatriates from Gujrat, Jhelum and Mandi Bahauddin districts arrived in Pakistan in the last one week. Mandi Bahauddin tops the list with around 900 people coming from Spain, Italy and France and around 300 in Gujrat as per the official figures of the interior ministry.

The sources added that the overseas arrivals were increasing by the day and the authorities were finding it difficult to locate many of those that did not cooperate due to the fear of being quarantined.

A senior administrative officer told Dawn that an area near Gujrat might be locked down in case of an increase in the number of around 20 suspected cases for which arrangements were already made.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020