Coronavirus outbreak: No passenger arriving from China to Pakistan will escape screening

January 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Urging the public not to panic in the wake of the most recent Pneumonia outbreak caused by Novel Coronavirus in China’s Wuhan City, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on...

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ISLAMABAD: Urging the public not to panic in the wake of the most recent Pneumonia outbreak caused by Novel Coronavirus in China’s Wuhan City, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza assured here Wednesday that no passenger arriving in Pakistan from the affected areas will escape screening.

Special counters have been established on Points of Entry at all airports, seaports, and ground crossings for screening of travelers arriving from China, and health staff have been instructed to vigilantly detect any suspected cases to preempt an outbreak.

The outbreak started in December 2019 as a mysterious cluster of respiratory illnesses in China, where 471 cases and 9 deaths have thus far been confirmed. “It has spread to five other countries—Taiwan (1 case), Japan (1 case), Thailand (2 cases), and South Korea (1 case); patients in all these countries have a history of recent travel to China. There is no case in Pakistan so far.

“As many as 41 direct or transit flights from China land at the Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi airports every week. All passengers arriving on these flights will be screened and those showing any symptoms, will be quarantined, if needed, for at least 14 days as per international guidelines,” Dr. Zafar stated as chair of an emergency meeting convened to strategise preemptive measures while also addressing growing public anxiety.

“At present, China is the only country where the specific diagnostic test for this disease is now available. We will acquire the required technology to conduct the test here in Pakistan, in due course,” he added.

Listing some of the key measures that have been taken, Dr. Zafar said, the Ministry of Health is closely collaborating with the Embassy of China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for uninterrupted monitoring of the situation. “The Ministry of Health has established an Emergency Operations Centre to monitor the international dynamics of the disease and to coordinate with the Central Health Establishment (CHE), the WHO, the Provincial Health Departments, hospitals, and the National Disaster Management Authority for prevention and control. We will keep the public and medical professionals informed of all latest developments on a continual basis,” he added, urging the media to refrain from sensationalism. “Please know that the situation is closely being monitored by the government,” Dr. Zafar said. Dr Zafar shared that a helpline will soon be activated to facilitate prompt reporting of any possible cases. All provincial chief ministers are being apprised of the situation in writing for timely preemptive measures. “We have strengthened surveillance at all levels,” he claimed.

The SAPM advised doctors and health professionals to pay exclusive attention to cases where the cause of an acute respiratory illness remains undiagnosed. “Hospitals in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad are being linked with surveillance systems on airports, seaports and ground crossings,” he added.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health has directed the Virology Laboratory to develop a real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) capacity for Novel Coronavirus as early as possible. The institute has also issued an advisory to alert public health professionals and has developed health education and information material for healthcare staff, passengers and the general public at large.

The institute convened a meeting with Airport Health Officers at NIH here Wednesday to review the steps being taken at airports. NIH is learnt to have recently completed comprehensive trainings for CHE at all airports, seaports and ground crossings on necessary health measures at Points of Entries (PoEs). The disease has no specific symptoms other than those peculiar to common respiratory and lung diseases such as cough, fever, weakness and morbidity. Initially, the virus spread in humans from wild animals and fish at a Wuhan seafood market; now human-to-human transmission has also been observed.

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