ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan presides over a meeting during his visit to the National Command and  Operation Centre on Thursday.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan presides over a meeting during his visit to the National Command and Operation Centre on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday directed the federal and provincial authorities to take all possible steps for controlling the novel coronavirus and ensure availability of medicines, oxygen and beds in hospitals.

He called for complete unity among the masses to fight an unusual and ominous challenge facing the country and for protection of the elderly and sick, especially those suffering from heart-related diseases and diabetes.

The prime minister issued the directives while chairing a meeting during his visit to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) for Covid-19 in Islamabad. Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was also present on the occasion.

Apart from federal ministers, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir and chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan attended the meeting via video link.

Meanwhile, the country reported 5,439 Covid-19 cases and 132 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 163,177 and deaths to 3,165.

5,439 Covid-19 cases, 132 deaths reported in single day; highest number of 31,500 tests conducted; GB minister dies of coronavirus; unprescribed sale of newly discovered medicine banned

On Thursday, veteran politician and GB minister for agriculture Haji Janbaz Khan died of coronavirus. He tested positive for Covid-19 and had been on a ventilator and oxygen support. The 65-year-old PML-N leader was elected to the GB Assembly five times from his constituency Chilas, Diamer district.

Prime Minister Khan, while lauding the role of the NCOC, said Pakistan had navigated Covid-19 in a balanced manner, but cautioned people to take utmost care.

“We need a unified and well-coordinated joint national response to fight the disease during the next couple of months; our actions will determine the extent of the crisis and success of our response through consensus,” he said.

The prime minister, while paying tribute to the sacrifices of healthcare workers, said they were making “us proud at this critical juncture and the entire nation recognises their contribution”. He said the media had performed responsibly so far, adding that the tendency to sensationalise things must be checked by themselves.

The prime minister was briefed by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar and Maj Gen Asif Mehmood Goraya, Director General of NCOC Operations and Planning, on the patterns of Covid-19 spread, pressure on hospitals, fatalities, and future projections.

PM Khan was also informed about the steps taken so far to curtail the spread of Covid-19 across the country, enforcement of standard operating procedure (SOPs), and strategy regarding the management of disease and implementation of decisions in coordination with all stakeholders.

The meeting was especially apprised of the gaps identified and measures being taken for improvement in the healthcare system to cope with the challenge, capacity building of healthcare professionals, increased availability of beds for the patients, uninterrupted availability of crucial medicines and sufficient supplies of oxygen.

The participants through a consensus resolved to continue the strategy of maintaining a balance between life and livelihood. It was reiterated that while businesses must remain open, strict implementation of SOPs will be ensured through awareness and administrative actions. Smart lockdowns in hotspots identified through use of technology tools would be ensured.

Unprescribed sale of medicine banned

Taking notice of black marketing and hoarding of a newly discovered medicine, the government on Thursday banned the unprescribed sale of Dexamethasone, a drug being used as a treatment of the novel coronavirus.

According to an advisory of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap), available with Dawn, due to the emergent pandemic situation availability of all medicines is to be ensured throughout the country, especially those found effective in the management of Covid-19.

“Recently, Dexamethasone, a synthetic steroid, has been found potentially beneficial in critically ill Covid-19 patients. Dexamethasone (injection, tablet and oral solution) shall be sold at the licensed pharmacies, drug/medical stores only on prescription basis,” it states.

“All licensed sale points shall maintain record of the prescriptions of a registered physician/consultant. National Task Force, constituted for the purpose of eradication of spurious and substandard drugs, is directed to take immediate action under the law against those involved in black marketing and hoarding and not complying with directives,” the Drap advisory adds.

The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has also issued a similar advisory for pharmacies and distributers operating in Islamabad, directing them not to sell the medicine without prescription. They have been directed to maintain the sale/purchase record along with hard copies of the prescription.

“Dexamethasone is an anti-inflammatory drug and we have multiple manufacturers in Pakistan. It is exceptionally important in this case that the drug is reserved for use in severely ill and critical patients who can benefit from this drug,” it states.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said the federal and provincial drug inspectors had been directed to take strict action against the violators of the advisory. “There is sufficient amount of medicine is available in the country. No one will be allowed to do illegal hoarding of the medicine to create artificial shortage. National Task Force on Health is also advised to take strict action against the elements involved in illegal selling,” he added.

Earlier, on June 13, the government took notice of unavailability and overpricing of Tocilizumab [Actemra] and Remedesivir injections used for management of Covid-19 patients and claimed that both medicines would be made available and overpricing would not be tolerated.

Covid-19 tests, lockdowns

According to NCOC data, the highest number of 31,500 tests for coronavirus was conducted during the last 24 hours.

Moreover, 10,439 violations of health guidelines/instructions were observed across the country over the past 24 hours due to which more than 937 markets/shops and 22 industries were sealed and 1,117 vehicles impounded, besides imposition of fines.

Under the tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ) strategy, 249 lockdowns were imposed in Punjab, 28 in Sindh, 601 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 44 in Azad Kashmir, 10 in Islamabad and 14 in GB.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2020