Virus cases may top 50,000 by April end, SC told

Published April 5, 2020
The ministry in the report on the national action plan for combating Covid-19 told the court that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus after 35 days of its outbreak in Pakistan remained low as compared to reported cases in European countries and Iran. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court Website/File
The ministry in the report on the national action plan for combating Covid-19 told the court that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus after 35 days of its outbreak in Pakistan remained low as compared to reported cases in European countries and Iran. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court Website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) informed the Supreme Court on Saturday that the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan might be over 50,000 by the end of April — 2,392 critical patients needing intensive care, 7,024 serious patients and 41,482 others who would have mild symptoms and just require isolation at their homes.

In a report submitted to the apex court, the ministry, however, explained that these figures were mere projections based on assumptions made from trends of the Covid-19 outbreak in other countries.

The ministry in the report on the national action plan for combating Covid-19 told the court that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus after 35 days of its outbreak in Pakistan remained low as compared to reported cases in European countries and Iran.

Two other reports were also filed before the court on Saturday by the Ministry of Interior and the Punjab government as well as a written synopsis by senior counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed defending the March 20 order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for releasing under-trial prisoners (UTPs) on bail.

The reports were furnished prior to a scheduled hearing on Monday of a challenge to the March 20 IHC order on a petition by Raja Mohammad Nadeem.

Ministry report says 2,392 critical patients may need intensive care

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, a five-judge larger bench will resume the hearing of the petition on April 6.

At the last hearing on April 1, the apex court had sought a comprehensive report from the government on measures taken to prevent the spread of deadly coronavirus in the country.

The NHSRC in its report explained that 13,000 health facilities across the country have been entrusted with collecting surveillance data besides developing public awareness messages for dissemination to all modes of media.

Moreover, the Public Health Emergency Operation Centre, activated at the National Institute of Health (NIH) has been assigned to conduct surveillance, prepare daily situation report, risk assessment, date analysis and to follow up suspected patients.

Apart from domestic emergency funding made available by the finance division, the report said, a comprehensive financing requirement for Pakistan to the tune of $366 million from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank has also been prepared in consultation with the provinces that has also been approved by the Planning Commission.

According to the NHSRC report, the NHSRC has also prepared and issued an advisory on Corona Mitigation Strategy for the health sector that include early case detection, contact tracing protocols, infection prevention SOPs, information education and communication material. It has set up 1166 helpline and adopted best practices to educate the masses on avoiding transmission.

In addition, social distancing measures and quarantine/isolation protocols have also been included in the advisory, the report says, adding SOPs for safe dignified burial have also been developed and shared providing clear guidelines to limit infection during the process.

The National Coordination Committee (Covid-19) has also been constituted and given specific terms of reference with respect to controlling the situation.

The NHSRC said that more than 1.4 million travelers were restricted for strict screening at major points of entry in the country — 1.1 million passengers at seven airports and more than 300,000 passengers at three land crossings, adding that 222 suspected patients were identified and quarantined.

Moreover, the NHSRC report says, the provision of five thermal scanners, more than 1,000 guns, essential equipment, human resource, training, standard guidelines and SOPs for point of entry have been developed.

Special counters have been established at all major international airports, all ground crossings at Taftan, Chaman and Torkham borders have further been strengthened, extra officials have been deployed and an emergency has been declared at bordering areas of Balochistan.

Similarly, the report says, 207 hospitals in all major cities and 154 districts of the country have been identified for isolation of suspected patients, adding that the isolation capacity has been increased.

Necessary measures

The interior ministry’s report has informed the apex court that a total of 991,337 persons have departed from Pakistan for different worldwide destinations since Jan 1, 2020 and a total of 13,493 persons have arrived in the country from different countries after screening.

The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, which is under the administrative control of the interior ministry, has taken appropriate necessary measures to control the spread of Covid-19.

The competent authority, the report says, in exercise of powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution and Section 131-A CrPC has authorised deployment of Pakistan Army’s troops in addition to the civil armed forces in the ICT and in all parts of the country in connection with the prevailing situation.

Moreover, the Pakistan Coast Guards has sealed all the Jetties to control the movements from the sea. In addition, the civil armed forces have been deployed at eight international airports on the recommendation of the National Security Committee to assist the airport authorities across Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Advocate Khawaja Haris Ahmed in his synopsis before the apex court argued that inmates in crowded jails of Pakistan were obliged by law to face trial on the basis of allegations made against them and not to become martyrs while waiting to be tried.

These inmates can be tried and convicted only if they are alive and well enough to face trial, he contended, adding unless the accused benefitting from the March 20 IHC order were desperate or dangerous criminals, their release did not affect the rights of the respective complainant.

Khawaja Haris said though he was not privy to what was discussed and what decisions were taken by the National Judicial Policy Making Committee, with respect to the national calamity and public emergency of international concern, he was quite convinced that the issue of the release of UTPs from jails in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak never discussed.

Besides no such bar was ever placed on high courts upon taking cognisance of the predicament of such prisoners, or passing of any orders to protect them from acquiring or being exposed to the risk of being infected by the deadly virus, he argued.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020

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