Airlines told to set up PCR testing counters

Published August 8, 2021
A file view of the Islamabad International Airport. The Civil Aviation Authority has asked Emirates Airlines to establish its own testing counters at airports. — AFP
A file view of the Islamabad International Airport. The Civil Aviation Authority has asked Emirates Airlines to establish its own testing counters at airports. — AFP

• Lockdown in Sindh to be lifted on Aug 9 • Hundreds of passengers denied boarding passes to travel to UAE
• PMC delegation visits Balochistan

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: As hundreds of passengers were denied boarding passes to travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for failing to present rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results, the national health services ministry requested airlines to set up their testing counters at airports.

Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been urged to take up the matter with the UAE government so that people could travel without facing any hassle.

On the other hand, during a joint session of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in Karachi, it was decided that the lockdown imposed by the Sindh government would be lifted from Aug 9 and stringent non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) issued by the forum for 13 cities with high virus prevalence, including Karachi and Hyderabad, would be enforced.

It is worth mentioning that the UAE’s National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority had lifted a ban on transit passenger traffic from different countries, including Pakistan.

Passengers were allowed to transit through airports of the UAE if they had a negative rapid PCR test taken within 72 hours. However, airlines refused to issue boarding passes to a large number of passengers from airports in Pakistan during the last two days for failing to provide results.

In a press release issued on Aug 6, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan stated that the UAE authorities had taken the decision without advance information. It called on the foreign affairs ministry to take up the issue with the UAE authorities through diplomatic channels so that a solution could be reached and the travellers spared the inconvenience.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said it was a unique and unreasonable demand.

“Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been requested to take up the issue with UAE. In the meanwhile, CAA has asked Emirates Airlines to establish its own testing counters,” he said.

Replying to a question, he said facility of rapid PCR test was available but in limited public-sector settings.

Talking to Dawn, microbiologist Dr Javaid Usman said though the rapid PCR test was held in around four hours, it required more logistics.

“In simple words rapid PCR test is done to amplify the sample and eliminate the chances of false positive or false negative results. The condition to hold the tests at the airport has been suggested to reduce chances of travel of infected passengers as tests even confirm virus in passengers having no symptoms. The machines which are used for the test are the size of a microwave oven and have 35 cycle threshold (Ct),” he said.

“According to my understanding UAE wants the tests to be done just before boarding but it requires a lot of logistics. After the sample is collected, almost two hours are needed to process it, as a sample mix is made by breaking the virus and extracting the ribonucleic acid (RNA) to run in the machine. It means that machines, equal to the number of passengers, will be required,” he added.

Replying to a question, Dr Usman said keeping passengers in a capsule or closed place for four hours would increase the possibility of the virus spreading.

“I suggest that only vaccinated people should be allowed to travel while the unvaccinated stopped,” he added.

NCOC meeting in Karachi

The NCOC meeting was informed that hospital inflow and pressure on critical care occupancy had increased which was why the Sindh government had placed stringent measures from July 31 to August 21 to control the situation, especially in Karachi.

The meeting was hosted by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah at the CM House on Saturday, which was also attended by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, Lt Gen Hamooduz Zaman, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on CPEC Khalid Mansoor and Maj Gen Asif Mahmood.

The chief minister was assisted by provincial ministers, Dr Azra Pechuho, Saeed Ghani, Syed Nasir Shah, Syed Sardar Shah, Adviser on Law Murtaza Wahab, Parliamentary Secretary on Health Qasim Soomro, Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah, IG Sindh Mushtaq Maher, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Sajid Jamal Abro, Health Secretary Dr Kazim Jatoi, Dr Faisal, Dr Sara Khan, Prof Saeed Qureshi and other officials.

It was pointed out that 67 per cent of the total positive cases had been detected in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Hyderabad.

The meeting was told that on Aug 6, as many as 1,195 patients were in critical care in Karachi, but within two days, their number increased to 1,210.

The chief minister said he had added 165 beds in the critical care system of Karachi, taking their number to 404.

The participants were informed that the hospitals in the country had come under pressure as 562 patients were admitted to hospitals in the current week.

In Sindh alone, 176 patients were admitted to hospitals whereas in Punjab, the number was 159. The number of patients in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was 175; Islamabad, 36; Azad Kashmir, 13 and Balochistan, four.

The participants were informed that on an average over 500 patients were being admitted to hospitals daily, with 70 to 80 in critical care.

Sharing the number of positive cases, the NCOC disclosed that Karachi accounted for 79pc of the cases in the province. During the current week, Karachi saw 10,591 people getting infected which constituted 21.4pc while the percentage in Hyderabad was 15pc.

It was informed that in Sindh, cases increased between July 26 and Aug 1, with the percentage of cases in Karachi rising from 21pc to 23.2pc.

Similarly, cases in Hyderabad rose from 6.6pc to 11.7pc, Badin from 4.7pc to 10.8pc, Thatta, 3.7pc to 7.5pc, Tharparkar, 2.7pc to 8.1pc; Sanghar, 5.1pc to 7.6pc; Matiari, 2.7pc to 6.3pc; Jamshoro, 3.4pc to 6.9pc; Mirpurkhas, 2.4pc to 5.7pc and in Shaheed Benazirabad, the percentage increased from 3.5pc to 5pc.

Sharing the ratio of positive cases and their trend, the meeting was told that Karachi had 24.2pc cases which fell slightly to 21.4pc during the current week.

Muzaffarabad had shown an increase from 17.5pc to 19.2pc, Rawalpindi from 10.3pc to 17.7pc, Peshawar, 13pc to 16.3pc, Hyderabad, 10.4pc to 15pc while Mirpur saw a decline in cases from 10.9pc to 10.7pc. Number of positive cases in Islamabad had risen from 9pc to 10.3pc.

At present, 102 patients were on ventilators in Karachi, one in Hyderabad, 22 in Rawalpindi, 36 in Peshawar, 43 in Islamabad, 20 in Bahawalpur and 10 in Gujranwala.

In Sindh, the positivity percentage has fallen from 13.7pc to 11.9pc, Balochistan’s ratio has come down from 4.9pc to 4.4pc, Gilgit-Baltistan also saw a decline from 10.4pc to 8.7pc whereas the positivity ratio in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reduced from 4.8pc to 4.2pc

Azad Kashmir, on the other hand, witnessed an increase from 23.6pc to 26pc, Punjab’s percentage rose from 4.6pc to 5.4pc while Islamabad reported a rise from 10.6pc to 12.1pc.

Mortality rate

The meeting was told that mortality rate had started to rise again after a consistent downward trend for two weeks in the country.

During the last six days, 63 patients have died on an average. It was pointed out that the rising death toll was likely to continue till the load on critical care subsided.

The mortality trend shows that from July 5 to Aug 1, some 285 patients succumbed to the virus in Punjab, 489 in Sindh, 125 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 24 in Islamabad, 39 in Azad Kashmir and 14 in Balochistan.

The participants were informed through presentations that the country was likely to witness a rise in disease during the coming weeks of August if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not followed.

The officials also agreed to issue SOPs for Muharram starting from Aug 9.

Meanwhile, the NCOC data reported that 95 patients lost their battle against coronavirus while 4,720 more got infected in the last 24 hours.

PMC delegation visits Balochistan

In another development, Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) President Dr Arshad Taqi and Surgeon General Lt Gen Dr Nigar Johar Khan travelled to Balochistan to provide support to projects aimed to develop the healthcare education and healthcare delivery in the province.

The PMC president visited Quetta Institute of Medical Sciences (QIMS) and CMH Quetta, the affiliated teaching hospital of the institute. He appreciated the range of services and learning opportunities offered by the institute for undergraduate students and postgraduate trainees.

According to a statement, the PMC president and surgeon general also visited Sheikh Zayed Institute of Cardiology that was nearing completion and expected to start functioning soon.

Both officials travelled to Turbat on the second day of their visit where they inspected the District Headquarters Hospital. They were accompanied by Secretary Specialised Healthcare Balochistan Noorul Haq Baloch.

The 350-bed facility is affiliated with the proposed Makran Medical College. They appreciated the faculty and staff’s service to healthcare delivery and training in this remote part of the country.

The trip also included a visit to the Makran Medical College campus.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2021

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