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ISLAMABAD: The National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday set up a National Coordination Committee to effectively curb the spread of coronavirus by evaluating the situation on day to day basis.
The other wide-ranging decisions taken by the NSC included closure of educational institutions for three weeks, ban on public gatherings, and complete shutdown of the Western border with Iran and Afghanistan for two weeks along with all airports except Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi for international travel.
However, seaports would remain operational with increased screening arrangements and surveillance so that the trade activities could not be affected.
The NSC, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had a thorough discussion on evolving situation in the wake of new coronavirus cases in the country, taking the tally of confirmed ones to 28 and resolved to ensure public safety and well-being, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza told the media.
Flanked by SAPMs Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Moeed Yousaf, Dr Zafar Mirza quoted the prime minister as saying, “The safety of people is our top-most priority.”
He said the National Coordination Committee would comprise federal ministers concerned, chief ministers, NDMA chairman, Surgeon General of Pakistan, representatives of Inter-Services Intelligence, Inter Services Public Relations and Directorate of Military Operations, while he would be its convener.
The committee would be authorized to include anyother stakeholder, if needed, the SAPM said, adding it would hold its maiden meeting on Saturday (today) at 4: 30 pm.
Dr Zafar said the evolving situation demanded to form such a high-level body so that the pandemic could be curbed through coordinated efforts after taking unanimous decisions at the national level.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) would be the lead operational agency with the required funds at its disposal, he added.
Mirza announced that there were 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with seven new cases emerging in Taftan.
"Twenty-eight persons have been infected with the novel coronavirus in Pakistan," said Dr Zafar Mirza.
"All seven patients in Taftan have been kept in isolation. A mobile laboratory has been established in Taftan," he added.
He said the government had decided to open only three airports for international flights. "International flights will be operated only through Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports," he said.
Dr Mirza said public gatherings have been banned throughout the country as "nothing was more important for the government than the public's safety". He revealed that the government had decided to ban events at wedding halls, cinemas and theatres for two weeks to grapple with the spread of infection.
"Federal minister for religious affairs will decide on matters pertaining to religious gatherings," he said. He said the government would contact the chief justice to decide on whether courts and kutcheris should keep on functioning or not.
"We request the civil courts to postpone hearings for three weeks," he said. "We will also request judicial magistrates and sessions court judges to go to jails and make decisions on remands and bails there."
Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood Friday said all schools, colleges, universities and madaris will remain closed throughout the country till April 5 after 21st coronavirus case was reported in Pakistan.
In a tweet Shafqat said, "In a meeting of the National Security Committee presided over PM Imran Khan, it has been decided to close all educational institutions in the country till April 5. This includes all schools and universities, public and private, vocational institutions and madaris."
"The situation regarding closure of all educational institutions in the country would be reviewed by the Ministry of Education on 27th March and further decisions taken," he said.
Following the federal government's decision of closure, the Punjab government also shut down its schools till April 5. The government also decided to cancel the Pakistan Day Parade as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The decision was taken by the National Security Committee in its meeting held on Friday to discuss the response from the government to the virus. Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas said, "Due to the coronavirus, schools in Punjab will be closed starting Sunday March 15, 2020 to Sunday April 5, 2020."
"Health of our Children & honourable Teachers is priority #1. At the end of the day it’s better to be safe than sorry," he said. Previously, the Sindh government had announced extending the closure of educational institutions in the country till May 30.
"Summer vacations are being preponed in Sindh & schools in Sindh will reopen on the 1st of June 2020. Decision has been made by cabinet," Advisor to the Chief Minister on Law Murtaza Wahab had tweeted.
Sindh Minister for Information, Local Government, Housing and Town Planning, Religious Affairs, Forest and Wildlife Syed Nasir Hussain Shah offered reward for the development of antidote to coronavirus.
According to a statement on Friday, he said any research institute or research student developing an antidote to the coronavirus that proved effective for complete cure would not only be rewarded, but also the Sindh government would bear the entire cost of research.
So far, there have been 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Karachi, he said. Similarly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced that all institutions throughout the province will remain closed till May 15.
The KP leadership also directed that all political and public gatherings be banned, while Chief Minister Mahmood Khan also postponed his rally in Swat as the virus continues to spread around the globe.
Closure of border: The interior ministry Friday said it will close the country´s border with Iran and Afghanistan in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. The closure of the porous frontier will begin March 16 "for an initial period of two weeks... in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in the best interest of all three brotherly countries," the ministry said.
PSL cut short: The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Friday decided to cut short the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 and hold the final match of the tournament on March 18 instead of March 23.
According to a press release by the cricketing body, the playoff match has been replaced by the semi-finals, which will be held at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore on March 17; one at 2pm and the second at 7pm. The final will also take place at the Gaddafi Stadium at 7pm on March 18.
The playoff matches scheduled for today, tomorrow and March 15 will be held according to schedule. The announcement came hours after the board announced that the tournament will continue as planned.
MPs call joint session: Lawmakers from the government and opposition parties in the National Assembly Friday demanded a joint session of Parliament to discuss the steps taken at the government level to control the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking on a point of order in the National Assembly, PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said, “A joint session of Parliament should be summoned immediately to discuss coronavirus and the steps taken at the government level for controlling its spread.
“The government and the opposition should sit together to discuss the issue and find out a solution to control it, which has already affected the whole world,” he added.
He said the opposition would not do politics on the issue of coronavirus adding that the member of opposition parties were ready to sit with the government to discuss the solution. However, he was of the view that till date the government had not taken serious steps to control the deadly virus.
Responding to a point highlighted by Abbasi, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood said 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus had been reported in the country so far.
He said screening had been put in place at all the airports and about one million had been screened. “We are aware of the sensitivity of the issue and the government is taking all possible steps to control the coronavirus in the country,” he added.
About the government decision to not bring the Pakistani students back from China, he said it was a difficult decision, but it had been taken in the best interest of the country. He said the Chinese government had advised Pakistan against taking back the students from the affected province, as they had provided with all possible assistance and medical care.
The minister said he had discussed the issue with the representatives of Britain, as the British government had not closed schools, universities. “We have taken all necessary steps to control the virus and I assure the House that the issue would be dealt with in an effective way.
PPP MNA Raja Pervaiz Ashraf suggested that emergency should be declared and a comprehensive awareness campaign launched in the country.
He also endorsed proposal for calling joint session of Parliament to discuss the coronavirus. MQM lawmaker Ameen-ul-Haq said his party also supported the idea of calling a joint session of Parliament to discuss coronavirus and preventive measures.
Screening at major airports: Meanwhile, major airports and other entry points in Pakistan would continue strict screening of passengers arriving from other countries.
Talking to the state-run TV, Director Directorate of Central Health Establishment (CHE) Dr. Irfan Tahir said temperature screening measures at airports and other ports of entry had been extended to cover all inbound travelers.
Authorities have screened or tested over one million travelers from all entry points of country. He urged the nation not to panic and follow basic hygiene while those with flu-like symptoms should consult a doctor.
Like other countries, Pakistani travelers at airports, land ports and seaports are also being screened, he added. “Passengers from different countries have started filling up health forms and are being fully screened at the airport before their departure and arrival," he said.
The screening measures include the placement of thermal scanners at the entry points to detect travelers with fever, he added.
Tablighi Ijtema cancelled: Organizers late Thursday curtailed the annual Tablighi Ijtema, which had drawn people from across the country, but cited rainy weather as the cause. The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore.
"Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands are here. They will return today," said Ehsanullah, one of the event organisers. "The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus, but our elders and organizers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned," Ehsanullah said.
IHC seeks report on students: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Friday sought a report from the federal government on evacuating the Pakistani students in China till March 20. Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed hearing on a petition filed for evacuation of Pakistani students.
Parents pleaded that their patience was running thin and pointed out that pilgrims from Iran had been brought back but their children were still in China even though no one had yet been tested positive for the coronavirus.
BD not to send cricket team: Bangladeshi cricket team also cancelled visit to Pakistan due to Coronavirus. The team was due in Karachi on March 29 and was scheduled to play one-day international on April 1 and the Test match on April 5 but the Bangladeshi board refused to send its team to Pakistan owing to Coronavirus.