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Out-of-control coronavirus worries world: Major stocks crater for third time

Top Story

March 17, 2020

KARACHI/PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD/DUBAI: The number of coronavirus patients reached 183 in Pakistan as Sindh reported most of the cases on Monday. Stocks over the world plunged in the worst drop of coronavirus outbreak. Financial markets cratered on Monday, as investors were confronted with evidence that a steep decline in the world’s largest economies may have already begun. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said that pilgrims returning from Iran were not kept in complete isolation from each other in Taftan as the federal government undertook no arrangements to properly quarantine people in the border town. There has been an exponential rise in the number of coronavirus cases in a short span with 150 cases being reported from Sindh, adding to a total of 183 patients across the country.

Within minutes of the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza officially confirming 94 cases of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Pakistan at a media interaction here on Monday, the government of NWFP confirmed another 15 cases — all of them pilgrims returning home from Iran.

The national tally spiraled from 53 cases on March 15, to 109 on March 16. And while these were not absolute figures as more than a dozen cases were unofficially confirmed thereafter, Dr Zafar insisted that the media stick to figures released by him only.

The Sindh chief minister, while addressing a press conference here at the Chief Minister’s House, said that the federal government was responsible for keeping people quarantined on return from abroad but it failed to adopt bare minimum arrangements for people in Taftan to stay in complete isolation. Shah said that more people were sent to Punjab from Taftan as compared to their number reaching Sindh and he was not aware if their tests were conducted to detect the coronavirus disease. He said he was pleasantly surprised that no case of coronavirus was detected among the ‘Zaireen’ from Iran who went to Punjab.

Meanwhile, the fast-travelling coronavirus (COVID-19) finally reached Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as 15 of the 19 people who had recently returned from Iran tested positive, provincial health minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra said on Monday. “Just received the news that 15 of 19 individuals received in KP from Taftan have tested positive of coronavirus; these are the first positive cases in KP,” Taimur Saleem Jhagra was quick to break the story of the first coronavirus cases in KP on Twitter.

These people were Zaireen and had returned to Pakistan a few weeks ago. They were quarantined in Taftan, the town near the border with Iran upon entering Pakistan.

The government had set up tented isolation units for quarantine of the people returning from neighbouring Iran. The official said Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had personally talked to some of the patients by phone and asked them if they had any complaint about services at the hospital.

Speaking at the COVID-19 Command and Control Center established within the Ministry of Health, Dr Zafar announced that a daily briefing will henceforth be held at the Centre to share authentic data and guidelines with the media for a singular official source. He said the Centre has been established to serve as a repository for COVID-related data and information from all over the country.

Dr Zafar said pilgrims returning from Taftan were quarantined for 14 days before being sent to their respective provinces. “I admit that it wasn’t an ideal place to keep them, but we had limited choices. I am grateful to the provinces for implementing a multi-layer screening and surveillance system, under which these people were quarantined and tested once again before being sent to their homes. The fact that some confirmed cases were detected at this stage when they reached Sukkur shows that transmission can be restricted if we operate under a unified strategy,” he stated. He added that coordination with the provinces was progressively improving; provincial focal persons have been appointed and the official machinery has been installed.

The government has provided COVID-19 diagnostic kits to 14 laboratories, which are performing these tests for free in major cities. These are the National Institute of Health, Islamabad; Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Rawalpindi; Punjab AIDS Lab, Lahore; Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, Lahore; Nishtar Medical College, Multan; Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi; Civil Hospital, Karachi; Ojha Institute, Karachi; Indus Hospital, Karachi; Public Health Laboratory, Khyber Medical University, Peshawar; Fatima Jinnah Hospital, Quetta; Mobile Diagnostic Unit, Taftan; Abbas Institute of Medical Sciences, Muzaffarabad; and District Head Quarter Hospital, Gilgit.

Dr Zafar said Rangers have been deployed at Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi airports for strengthened surveillance. Fumigation of office buildings, airports, hospitals, and public places will soon be undertaken, with an advisory also being prepared in this regard. The SAPM clarified that people suffering from common flu do not require to be tested for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the government on Monday approved concept paper of Pakistan National Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19 in order to place all precautionary measures across the country. It asks the government for procurement of equipment and consumables for 200 hospitals (156 at district level hospitals and 44 tertiary level hospitals) for effective clinical management of confirmed cases. It also required procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for 200 hospitals, 19 POEs, 10 quarantine sites and 42 labs, procurement of diagnostic equipment for 42 labs, surveillance support and operational cost.

Also, the Planning Commission’s Central Development Working Party (CDWP) on Monday approved the concept paper for placing effective strategy for combating coronavirus in Pakistan. Now the ministries will prepare development projects in the light of this concept paper. The concept clearance proposal envisages enhancing capacity for preparedness and mounting response to prevalent Corona Virus (Covid-19) pandemic. The proposed interventions will (i) strengthen preparedness to identify/diagnose primary cases and following up contacts. It effectively responds to minimize impact of Covid-19 through surveillance strengthening, case management, infection prevention and control, risk communication and coordination.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Monday decided to run a well-coordinated nationwide awareness campaign regarding coronavirus on the special instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. PTI Chief Organiser Saifullah Khan Nyazee issued emergency directives to all PTI regional presidents including Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to launch an effective nationwide awareness campaign pertaining to the virus across the country to deal with the menace.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended issuance of visas to Pakistani citizens for an indefinite period. Islamabad Embassy of the UAE in a statement on Monday announced suspension of issuance of visa till the next orders. The embassy will issue visas only to those holding diplomatic passport the diplomatic mission said. The mission will not issue visa on general Pakistani passport statement added. The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship of the UAE has said that the move was taken as a precautionary measure being initiated by the country to contain the spread of novel coronavirus and is in response to the World Health Organisation declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic which makes travel at this point dangerous.

Meanwhile, stocks on Monday plunged over 2,375 points in its biggest one-day point fall in history, tracking a crash in global equities as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on international oil and stocks markets. On the global front, the morning after the US Federal Reserve cut its interest rates to near zero at the urging of President Trump (a move meant to stabilize jittery markets worried about the economic fallout from the global response to the novel coronavirus pandemic), all of the indexes posted major losses. For the third time in the past two weeks, the Dow hit its emergency circuit breaker as the market opened; the S&P also halted trades. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 10% at the open, falling by 2,250 points to 20,935; the Nasdaq was off by 6.12%, falling 7,392.73; the S&P 500 fell by 8.14%, or 220.55, to open at 2,490.47.

The huge drop mirrored movements in international markets — which were all thrown into turmoil by the Fed’s drastic rate cuts. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, Japan’s Nikkei, London’s FTSE and the Shanghai Exchange all saw losses for the day (London is still trading).

‘The market opened in free-fall as the index plummeted over 2,442 points in an intra-day trade, following a plummeting equity markets across the world amid deepening corona fears,” brokerage JS Global Capital Limited said in a post market note. “The drastic fall pushed the index below the 33,620 level, triggering a halt in trade.”

Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) benchmark KSE-100 shares index lost 6.59 percent or 2375.97 points to close at 33,684.91 points level. KSE-30 shares index followed suit with a low of 7.19 percent or 1,151.72 points to end at 14,864.92 points level. Of 346 active scrips, 18 up, 319 retreated, and 9 remained unchanged. The ready market volumes stood at 215.437 million shares, as compared with the turnover of 290.470 million shares in the previous session. Dealers said only three out of KSE-100 stocks registered gains with low volumes while overall decline was across the board.

While Iran on Monday closed four key Shiite pilgrimage sites to stop a coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 850 people out of nearly 15,000 cases recorded in the Islamic republic. The holy shrines of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Fatima Masumeh in Qom and Shah Abdol-Azim in Tehran were shut until further notice “upon the orders of the anti-coronavirus headquarters and the health minister,” state television said. Qom’s Jamkaran mosque also said it would close its doors, the official IRNA news agency reported. People angry over the decision protested outside Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine, some chanting “religious slogans” and damaging the entrance door, IRNA reported. The coronavirus outbreak has spread to all of Iran’s 31 provinces since it first emerged last month in Qom, which is among the worst-hit regions along with Tehran and Khorasan Razavi, where Mashhad is located.

The move came after Iran said the COVID-19 disease killed another 129 people, taking the country’s overall toll to 853 dead out of 14,991 cases of infection.

Meanwhile, coronavirus outbreak Monday killed a member of the clerical body that appoints the supreme leader, state media said, taking the death toll among serving and ex-officials to at least 12.

Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, who was 78, died two days after testing positive for the COVID-19 disease and being hospitalised, state news agency IRNA reported. The virus also killed a prominent economist and political activist on Monday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA. Fariborz Rais-Dana, 71, succumbed to the illness after being hospitalised for six days, ISNA reported.

Meanwhile, the global aviation association warned Monday that travel restrictions and flight cancellations imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic had “severely limited” cargo capacity needed to ship medicines. The International Air Transport Association urged governments to keep air cargo flowing to prop up supply chains and transport medical necessities during the deadly new coronavirus outbreak. “The dramatic travel restrictions and collapse of passenger demand have severely limited cargo capacity,” said Geneva-based IATA. It added that besides delivering medicines and medical equipment, air cargo was instrumental in transporting food and products bought online that support quarantine and social distancing policies. “Over 185,000 passenger flights have been cancelled since the end of January in response to government travel restrictions,” said IATA chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.

Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned in a televised address to the nation Monday that most residents would get coronavirus, but he ruled out a full lockdown like other European countries. Rutte says his government wants to build “group immunity” while waiting for a vaccine, by letting the least vulnerable people catch the virus while protecting the elderly and sick. This could take “months, or even longer”, he added, in the first such speech by a Dutch premier since the 1970s oil crisis. The Netherlands has already imposed its toughest ever peacetime restrictions including the closure of schools, restaurants and even cannabis cafes. “There’s no easy message to you this evening. The reality is that a large part of the Dutch population will be infected by the coronavirus. That is what the experts are telling us,” a grave-looking Rutte said.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the suspension of public prayers in all places of worship. The prayers at mosques, churches and temples would be suspended from Monday for four weeks to contain the spread of coronavirus and protect public health. The UAE’s National Emergency of Crisis and Disasters Management Authority and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments took the decision to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and protect public health. Authorities called on Emiratis and residents to comply with the directive to protect themselves and others.

Meanwhile, the German government on Monday banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and ordered non-essential shops as well as playgrounds shut, as it battled to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Supermarkets, banks and post offices will stay open, but the sweeping restrictions aimed at “limiting social contact in public places” will leave most sites from museums to swimming pools to gyms shuttered.

While the Russian government said on Monday it would close all its borders to foreign citizens this week except permanent residents because of the coronavirus. The measure was announced in a statement Monday from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The G7 major economies have pledged to do “whatever is necessary” to stabilise a global economy shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, with its leaders vowing to co-ordinate recovery plans in the face of a possible worldwide recession. In a statement following a call between the leaders of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Japan, the G7 said they would press their central banks to support the financial system and hold weekly finance ministerial meetings to determine additional measures that would be needed. The leaders said the pandemic, which has seen entire industries such as hospitality and aviation grind almost to a halt, was not only a human tragedy but also posed “major risks for the world economy”. “We resolve to co-ordinate measures and do whatever it takes, using all policy tools, to achieve strong growth in the G7 economies, and to safeguard against downside risks,” they said.