Centre, Sindh at odds on lockdown; Punjab extends ‘shutdown’

Updated March 24, 2020

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KARACHI: Police personnel punishing people at Surjani Town who violated the lockdown which came into force on Monday.—Online
KARACHI: Police personnel punishing people at Surjani Town who violated the lockdown which came into force on Monday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: While the federal government continues to disagree with the provincial government over its stance on lockdown to slow Covid-19 spread, the tally of confirmed cases across the country jumped to 875 on Monday with prominent politician of Sindh Saeed Ghani, some foreigners and a journalist among the latest victims.

“I got myself tested for Covid-19 and surprisingly it was declared positive despite the fact that I have no symptoms such as flu, cough, fever and I am not feeling pain in my body. However, as test has been declared positive so I have decided to remain in isolation for two weeks and will stay at home and perform duties from here,” said Mr Ghani, who is Education Minister in Sindh, in a video statement.

Considering the sensitivity of the matter, Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah ordered tests of the members of his team who had been in contact with Mr Ghani including himself.

In Islamabad, as many as six cases were confirmed among the members of Tablighi Jamaat who were residing in a mosque at Bahara Kahu. According to police, a few days back one member of the Jamaat from Kyrgyzstan was confirmed with the virus. Later five more Kyrgyz nationals and six Pakistanis, who were residing in the same mosque were shifted to an isolation ward. On Sunday six more people [nationality was not shared with media] were confirmed with virus and results of five suspects were awaited. A 35-year-old woman residing in Rawalpindi also tested positive.

Sindh CM orders tests of all cabinet members after minister tests positive

The Punjab’s capital confirmed 18 new cases including four Chinese nationals, some participants of recently congregation of Tablighi Jamaat at Raiwind and a journalist from electronic media. These new patients were from among the 24 patients reported from all over the Punjab province.

While speaking to a news conference, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said the federal government disagreed with the narrative of lockdown and suggested that the masses should be “convinced” to stay indoors.

“Opposition wants to announce lockdown which means that people would be forced to remain at their homes. It is right of the provinces to call Army, in aid of civil administration, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved their requests but we don’t agree with the narrative of Sindh government. We believe that the challenge of Covid-19 can be overcome by taking the people into confidence,” she announced.

While addressing a joint press conference, SAPM on National Security Division Dr Moeed Yusuf urged Pakistanis not to travel to Pakistan for two weeks. He said: “Pakistanis stranded in the United Arab Emirates will be brought through special flight. Some Pakistanis, who got stuck at Istanbul airport, have been shifted to Pakistan embassy after arranging visa for them.”

SAPM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said only people could control the disease. “Covid-19 cannot enter your home unless you go out to bring it home. So it is suggested to limit yourself to your home and don’t go out unnecessarily. If you have to go out, don’t venture at crowded places and try to keep distance of two metres from other people. After reaching home wash your hands for at least 20 seconds,” he advised.

NDMA’s top priority

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal said that at the moment the top priority of the government was the provision of safety gear for doctors and paramedic staff who were in direct contact with coronavirus patients.

He said the government had allocated sufficient funds to the NDMA for intervention and to pool in resources for fighting the global threat of coronavirus. He appreciated facilitation by the State Bank of Pakistan to enable the NDMA for transferring money to the Pakistan embassy in China for procurement in the coming days.

“Ventilators and other personal protection equipment (PPEs) are being procured from China and a consignment of 125-tonne PPEs and other medical equipment is due to arrive in Pakistan on Friday or by the end of this week,” he said.

According to Covid-19 Command and Control Centre, out of 875 confirmed cases so far, as many as 394 cases were reported from Sindh, 246 from Punjab, 110 from Balochistan, 71 from GB, 38 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15 from Islamabad and one from AJK. Moreover, six deaths have been reported till Monday evening.

An official said as many as 17 Chinese engineer working at the CPEC sites all across the province were separated when they showed symptoms of the coronavirus. He said a high alert was generated, health teams dispatched and the samples were sent the labs for analysis. The reports tested four of them positive, he said, adding that the teams had isolated them for further treatment.

About the men who had attended a congregation at Raiwind, he said two such persons visited a private health facility with flu and other signs of coronavirus. They were shifted to a state-run hospital and one of them tested positive.

According to the official figures, total confirmed cases of the virus have reached to 246 in Punjab including 52 in Lahore so far. In Lahore, total number of patients tested positive for the virus have reached 52.

The largest number of the total patients tested positive for the virus in Punjab were 177 pilgrims who had arrived from Iran and were isolated in a university in Dera Ghazi Khan.

Realizing the magnitude of threat due to the fast spread of coronavirus, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced that the weekend shutdown of public places would continue for another 14 days. He also announced the shutdown for public and private offices and public transport.

“These shut down measures should not be viewed as lockdown but bit stringent to ensure social distancing – only course of action to protect individuals in particular and whole community in general,” insisted CM Buzdar while addressing a news conference through a video-link from civil secretariat.

The chief minister stressed that the army troops, already called in the province, and civil administration should strictly implement the directives to ensure social distancing.

Mr Buzdar said that the masses had responded to his appeal of restricting unnecessary movement during the long weekend. He said staying home was the safest path to remain protected.

The chief minister also lauded the doctors, nurses, paramedics, local government department and Rescue 1122 officials for serving the masses during testing times on frontlines.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that all the Bishops, Pastors, Pandits and other minority religious leaders have announced that all Churches etc would be closed on a voluntarily basis due to the increasing intensity of coronavirus.

Answering a question whether the Punjab government would assistance of former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, who has returned from England and carried experience to combat the pandemic outbreak, Mr Buzdar said the Punjab government had its own experts’ team advising the government. The Punjab government constituted Corona Experts Advisory Group (CEAG) for clinical management of patients to curtail mortality rate and ensure standard treatment. The 12-member body will be headed by former vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences Prof Dr Mehmood Shaukat, while chief executive of Lahore’s Mayo Hospital Prof Dr Asad Aslam will be the co-chairman.

An official said the top body of clinicians was formed on the pattern of the dengue expert advisory group, which was formed by Shahbaz Sharif-led government to combat dengue in 2011.

Imran Ayub from Karachi and Asif Chaudhry from Lahore also contributed to this story

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2020