• Woman doctor among five medical practitioners who lost their lives in same period
• PM’s aide announces new guidelines for funeral, burial
• Imran calls NCC meeting to decide about lockdown

ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan calls the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting on Monday to decide about further easing lockdown, Pakistan witnessed the highest ever spike in number of coronavirus cases and deaths in a single day, with the medical fraternity losing five more lives during the past 24 hours.

As many as 81 deaths were reported on Friday, as the countrywide death toll jumped from 1,283 to 1,364. Among them, five were medical practitioners including two who died in Balochistan, one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another two in Punjab, while the number of Covid-19 patients surged from 62,689 to 65,216 in the last one day.

However, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Zafar Mirza told the media that the situation was under control, as the government still had adequate facilities including ventilators and beds to deal with patients’ influx.

While addressing a press conference, the PM’s aide said over 64,000 confirmed cases had been reported so far and over 2,500 new cases during the last 24 hours. Although new positive cases were increasing and there were threats of fast spread of the disease, the government had adequate facilities including beds and ventilators to deal with the emerging situation, he said.

He also shared with the media the government guidelines for safe burial of Covid-19 patients and urged citizens to continue to implement the SOPs.

About hospital beds and ventilators, Dr Mirza said the government had developed a health information system (HIS) to keep an update on the status of available facilities at public-sector hospitals for Covid-19 patients. “Due to the system, the government would be able to know the occupancy of beds and ventilators, and their availability at the intensive care units and allocated wards of hospitals,” he added.

The number of patients on ventilators were on the rise but the ratio of ventilator usage is 20 per cent, which indicated that still enough number of ventilators and beds were available at hospitals, he claimed.

During the past 24 hours, the five medical practitioners who died while fighting coronavirus were Dr Zubair Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Akbar Mengal from Balochistan, Dr Khanzada Shinwari from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Dr Sana Fatima and medical student Salman Tahir from Punjab.

Dr Zubair, who was official in charge of trauma centre in Bolan Medical Collage Hospital Complex, died late Thursday night, and Dr Mengal, who served at Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital died on Friday.

Young medic Dr Fatima and medical student Salman died at private hospitals in Lahore. Dr Shinwari, who died on Thursday at Khyber Teaching Hospital, Peshawar, originally hailed from Hangu.

Guidelines for burial

The PM’s aide shared with the press the new guidelines for handling the bodies of Covid-19 patients and said there was no bar on attending funeral and burial rituals of Covid-19 patients if participants observed precautionary measures.

He urged citizens to continue implementing protective measures as per directions to overcome the increase in coronavirus cases. He said the government guidelines were already strict but some people had made them stricter for themselves.

He said the government had made some amendments in the guidelines for safe burial to ensure safety of all those who attended the funeral ceremony or handled the bodies of individuals suspected or tested positive for Covid-19.

“Till date there was no scientific evidence of transmission of virus through the dead body of Covid-19 deceased case, yet it was vital to ensure precautionary measures while handling the bodies of suspected or confirmed cases,” he added.

He said there was no restriction on immediate family members to attend final rituals. However, anyone attending and handling the body must use appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) including gown, gloves, and mask etc. He advised to use face shield and goggles, if there were a potential risk of body fluid splashes.

He said there was also no bar on giving Ghusal (bath) and shroud to body for the burial. The healthcare workers, family members or mortuary staff, preparing the body for burial, should follow the standard precautions of wearing proper PPE.

He said the family and friends might view the body but should not be allowed to touch or kiss it. They should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently.

The burial rituals, including burial gathering and prayers should have minimal possible numbers like only immediate family and relatives. “All in attendance should observe standard precautions like social distancing, face masks and frequent hand washes,” he added.

He said there were 157 patients on ventilators on Friday, which was the highest number of patients on ventilators registered in a single day. However, overall some 35 per cent patients (22,305) had recovered completely so far, he said, adding that over 520,000 corona tests had been conducted till date.

Meanwhile, a senior cabinet member told Dawn that the Prime Minister will chair NCC meeting on Monday as the deadline of lockdown is going to be over on May 31. He said the meeting would decide whether the restriction of lockdown should be re-imposed or they should be relaxed further.

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020