Borders closure extended for two weeks

Updated March 29, 2020

Email

ISLAMABAD: A team of Chinese doctors arrives at the Islamabad International Airport on Saturday. The team will assist the Pakistan government in containing the spread of Covid-19.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: A team of Chinese doctors arrives at the Islamabad International Airport on Saturday. The team will assist the Pakistan government in containing the spread of Covid-19.—White Star

• Chinese doctors team, 600 testing kits arrive
• PM’s aide says country has low Covid-19 mortality rate

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has said the tally of confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday rose to 1,500 with 12 deaths across the country, giving Pakistan a 0.8 per cent mortality rate that is lower than many other parts of the world including some developed countries.

However, the government announced that international departure of passenger planes would be decided on a case-to-case basis while extending the closure of borders and suspension of trade with India, Iran and Afghanistan for another fortnight due to the Covid-19 situation.

The government also devised a standard operating procedure (SOP) for conducting free of cost tests, considering a limited number of testing kits were available in the country though a cargo plane carrying 600 kits from China arrived at the Karachi airport on Saturday.

The announcements were made during a press conference addressed by Dr Mirza, SAPM on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal.

The PM’s aide on health said that the world reported more than 600,000 cases with around 28,000 deaths, Pakistan detected around 1,500 cases “though there are over 12,000 suspected cases in Pakistan. The mortality rate, in Pakistan, is [still] very low as compared to other countries. In China, 4.05pc patients died, in Iran 7.33pc patients and in Italy more than 10pc patients have died. In Pakistan, the mortality rate is 0.78pc,” he said.

Dr Mirza said there were limited kits in Pakistan so an SOP had been made to test the suspects of Covid-19. “Patients suffering with respiratory problem, who have travel history or stayed in company of confirmed cases, will be tested. Health professionals and others such as diabetics vulnerable to virus will be tested. Moreover, people in the area of disease outbreak and in quarantine will be tested,” he added.

About borders’ closure, Dr Yusuf said the National Security Committee on March 14 decided to close eastern and western borders for two weeks. “We have decided to extend it for two more weeks. Trade will remain suspended with Iran, Afghanistan and India, and Kartarpur Corridor will also remain closed. However, seaports will remain open for cargo. International flight operation will remain suspended till April 4 and will be opened gradually as we want to ensure arrangements to stop transmission of virus in Pakistan,” he said.

He said international departures of passenger aeroplanes were previously allowed but it would be decided on a case to case basis.

The NDMA chairman said that 600 testing kits having the capacity to conduct 30,000 tests arrived at Karachi from China through a cargo plane. “Moreover, 15 ventilators have been dispatched from China to Pakistan. Order of 679 ventilators has been placed. Of them, 400 will reach Pakistan within a week. We will also receive a donation of 150 ventilators soon. New laboratories are being established to provide testing facility and as there is shortage of trained manpower so we have decided to recruit 100 laboratory technicians having experience in molecular biology,” he added.

Lt Gen Afzal said Personal Protective Equipment was arranged for Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, an eight-member team of Chinese doctors arrived at Islamabad airport to assist the Government of Pakistan in Covid-19 response. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi received them.

The team arrived on a day when another doctor contracted the virus and dozens of health professionals were quarantined. Fifteen staffers of Rawalpindi District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) were moved to quarantine after a young doctor at the facility tested positive. Besides, some areas of Dhok Paracha, Dhok Kashmirian and Magistrate Colony were sealed and residents were directed to stay at their homes.

Similarly, the Polyclinic out-patients department was closed and 30 officials were moved to a quarantine centre. The OPD was functioning despite clear directions from the capital administration to close all OPDs and only entertain emergency cases. All the officials, including 28 doctors and two paramedics, have been tested and their results are expected on Sunday. A hostel in Islamabad’s G-7 sector was also sealed after a resident tested positive for Covid-19. It was turned into a quarantine centre for patients among area residents.

Meanwhile, Gilgit-Baltistan information department confirmed eight more coronavirus patients. The total number of coronavirus patients in GB has soared to 115.

In Balochistan’s Khuzdar area, people were seen violating lockdown in large numbers despite strict orders and deployment of police and personnel of security forces. Many shops were found openly flouting the closure order. Political parties demanded the district administration to take notice of the violation and enforce complete lockdown to protect the lives of people.

Jamil Nagri from Gilgit and Saleem Shahid from Quetta also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020