Centre calls for ‘smart lockdown’

Updated April 20, 2020

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Chaman, Torkham borders to open twice a week. — AFP/File
Chaman, Torkham borders to open twice a week. — AFP/File

• Covid-19 cases cross 8,000 mark
• Chaman, Torkham borders to open twice a week

ISLAMABAD: While the confirmed cases of Covid-19 surged past 8,000 with the addition of 514 new ones and 20 deaths by 2am on Monday, the federal government on Sunday suggested to the provinces to enforce lockdown in only those localities from where new cases are being reported.

The government also decided to open Torkham and Chaman borders twice a week to facilitate return of around 800 stranded Pakistanis from Afghanistan, besides mulling over options to allow some international airlines to bring back the Pakistanis stranded in various countries.

In another significant development, six stakeholders in the health sector established Grand National Health Alliance (GNHA) to help protect the healthcare providers who are on the frontline in the war against Covid-19. The alliance sent a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, alleging that Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid had deceived the nation and the top court by making false statements regarding the coronavirus situation in the country.

Discussing the measures being taken to stop the spread of virus, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf told a news conference on Sunday that efforts were being made to stop the transmission of the disease from abroad. However, he said, 63 per cent of the cases were reported through local transmission. For this, he added, testing capacity would have to be increased and the relevant authorities should opt for ‘smart lockdown’.

“We need to go for smart lockdown and let the other areas of the country remain open. Only those areas should be sealed from where cases are reported and other areas should remain open,” the PM’s aide said.

“We have opened some industries but they also need to ensure social distancing among their employees,” he added.

Stranded Pakistanis will be brought back

About the stranded Pakistanis, Dr Yusuf said it was decided that Torkham and Chaman borders would be opened twice a week.

“Twice a week 500 Pakistanis would be brought through Torkham border and 300 through Chaman border. Moreover, 6,000 Pakistanis will be brought back by air from different countries next week. But they will have to stay in quarantine for 48 hours and they will be tested for Covid-19,” he said.

“There are thousands of Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who have lost their jobs and their visas have expired. [For them], 16 flights would be operated from there. Besides, the Pakistani prisoners released from Bahrain will be brought. We are also considering allowing some international flights to bring Pakistanis from different countries of Africa and America,” the PM’s aide explained.

He said flights would be operated from the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

It is worth mentioning that thousands of Pakistanis have been suffering in different countries due to the suspension of flight operations. Initially the hue and cry started when Pakistani students got stuck in Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei province, as China announced lockdown due to the Covid-19. Later with the passage of time a number of countries, including Pakistan, suspended flight operations due to which Pakistanis got stuck in different countries and even at airports.

Dr Niaz Ahmed, a government employee in the federal capital, while talking to Dawn, said his two daughters and a son were stuck in New York. “My son Mohammad Hamza Niaz and daughters Urwa Tul Vusqa and Areej Niaz have been staying in Queen’s area of New York as their universities had directed them to vacate the hostels. They vacated the hostels but could not return due to suspension of flights. The whole family is worried as New York is the most affected area, but I don’t have any option to bring my children back,” the official said.

Meraj Khalid, a travel agent, said there was huge confusion, as some passengers having “contacts” were boarded in different countries or PIA flights came without having passengers.

Just a few days ago, the PM’s aide had admitted that the flights, which had gone to drop passengers, had not brought back Pakistani passengers because such a large number of people could not be tested for Covid-19 in Pakistan. He also had told the media that as per government policy the ‘most deserving’ Pakistanis had to be brought first.

Meanwhile, Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri praised the committee established to facilitate the return of Umrah pilgrims to Pakistan. He said: “The committee established to bring pilgrims has done a marvellous job.” He also appreciated the Pakistan consulate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Saudi authorities for their cooperation, saying that all 226 Umrah pilgrims had returned.

Most number of tests in a day

The PM’s aide on national security told the press conference that 7,847 Covid-19 tests, the highest number of tests in a day, were conducted during the past 24 hours and according to official data 80 per cent of Covid-19 patients who died were already had some other health complications.

Grand alliance

To protect the healthcare providers from the deadly virus by ensuring provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to them, six stakeholders of health sector on Sunday established Grand National Health Alliance (GNHA).

Chaired by Dr Salman Haseeb Chaudhary (the president of Young Doctors’ Association of Punjab), the GNHA has members from different associations including Pakistan Young Pharmacists Association, Paramedics Association Punjab and Pakistan Drug Lawyers Forum.

In a letter sent to the chief justice, the GNHA alleged that PM’s aide on health and Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid had deceived the august court and the nation by making false statements about the isolation and testing facilities, PPEs, isolation wards with washrooms, washing facilities and availability of quality sanitizers and medicines besides proper screening at all levels in connection with Covid-19.

NDMA sends PPE to hospitals

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) issued a statement explaining that a third shipment of PPEs for doctors and medical staff had been released to hospitals across the country. According to the statement, goods were dispatched to hospitals in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan on Sunday evening. For Azad Kashmir, 11,500 surgical masks and 320 N-95 masks are included. 46,000 surgical masks and 1283 N-95 masks were sent to Balochistan. In addition, a PCR machine, two auto-instruction machines and 15,000 test reactions were sent to Balochistan.

For Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan, safety goods had already been shipped, while for Sindh and Punjab, the goods would be shipped soon, it stated.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2020