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KARACHI/ ISLAMABAD: Implementing the second level of lockdown to slow down and contain the coronavirus outbreak in Sindh, the provincial government on Tuesday announced closure of intercity transport, public offices, all the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) at public hospitals, shopping malls, restaurants, food streets, public parks for 15 days in the entire province, except for essential services. The restaurants were, however, allowed to offer home delivery services.
The educational institutions will remain closed till May 30 while large public gatherings, weddings and congregations, conferences and other events have already been banned in the province by the authorities to contain the spread of coronavirus, whose cases jumped to 172 in Sindh after 17 more people were found infected on Tuesday. The Sindh chief minister announced the closure of shopping malls, restaurants, public parks and offices while presiding over the 20th meeting of Task Force on Coronavirus here at the CM House. It was attended by provincial ministers, chief secretary, IGP Sindh, provincial secretaries, commissioner Karachi, representatives of Corps 5, Rangers, FIA, Airport authorities, Civil Aviation, WHO, representatives of Aga Khan and Indus hospitals, Mushtaq Chapra, Faisal Edhi, Shahzad Roy among others.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has decided to establish a Coronavirus Relief Fund of Rs3 billion and announced to donate one-month salary. All of those present at the cabinet meeting followed suit. The chief minister said that coronavirus has started to spread through social contacts in Karachi and other areas of the province. “If we fail to take strict measures in time, it is bound to affect the entire province and then our health facilities would fall short to provide medical treatment,” he said and decided that all the shopping malls, restaurants, food streets in Karachi and public parks, Karachi Electronic Market, would remain closed from Wednesday, the March 18 for the next 15 days all over Sindh. However, medicine, grocery, fish, dairy, poultry and vegetable shops and stalls would remain open and even if they want they can operate round the clock, the chief minister said. Shah also decided that all the government offices, except essential services such as health, local government, water board, etc, would continue work as usual.
Another important decision taken by the chief minister was to close the inter-city bus service from Friday. “There are two days for visitors to return their respective homes and cities and after that all the inter-city buses would be stopped from plying on their routes. However, intra-city bus service would continue as usual. The hospitals would continue functioning as usual, however their OPDS would remain closed for 15 days. The hospitals would keep their emergencies open round the clock. It was also decided that the restaurants would not be allowed to offer dining service but they could continue with their home delivery services. The dining facilities would also remain suspended for the fortnight in all star hotels and clubs but room services would continue. The chief minister directed the K-Electric and water board to ensure uninterrupted supply so that people could stay at their homes comfortably.
The chief minister was told that in Karachi, total of 501 tests were conducted, of them 463 turned out to be negative while 38 were diagnosed as positive. As many as 274 samples of Zaireen living at Sukkur were also tested out of which 140 were declared negative, while 134 were diagnosed as positive. In this way, the total cases in Sindh have reached 172. The result of 29 samples was still pending. As many as 31 flights were scheduled to land at the Jinnah Terminal, of them nine were cancelled and total 3,922 passengers arrived. On screening of passengers, three were termed as suspects of coronavirus and they were sent to quarantine and their samples were sent for lab tests.
The commissioner Sukkur told the chief minister that 696 pilgrims had left Taftan on Tuesday and they would reach Sukkur on Wednesday. Three health officers were deployed at divisional level for coordination and implementation of government decisions. The chief minister directed district administrations to identify newly-constructed hospitals, RHC, THQ hospitals for use as isolation centers. He also directed the health department to send three lab technicians to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, for training.
The Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, also decided to establish Coronavirus Relief Fund of Rs3 billion for which he announced donating one-month salary. Following the chief minister, all the cabinet members, advisers and special assistants to CM, chief secretary Mumtaz Shah, IG Police Mushtaq Maher and Chairman P&D Mohammad Waseem also announced to donate their one-month salaries in the fund. Mayor Karachi Waseem Akhtar also announced to donate his one month salary in the fund.
The chief minister also announced that all the government officers of grade BPS-21 would donate half of their salary while the employees of grade BPS-1 to 20 would contribute 10 percent salary while employees from grade BPS-1 to Grade 16 would contribute 5 percent salary. The chief minister also approved transfer of Rs1 billion from Relief Fund into the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The fund would operate under chief secretary and would comprise secretary finance, Dr Abdul Bari of Indus Hospital, Mushtaq Chapra and Faisal Edhi as members. The secretary finance and a private member would operate the account with their joint signatures. The chief minister appealed to philanthropists and industrialists to donate to the fund in cash and kind so that proper care of the patients, suspects and people of Sindh at large could be made smoothly.
The chief minister while chairing a meeting decided to convert a block of Sukkur Labour Colony, already developed as Isolation Center, into a full-fledged hospital for those living there. The chief minister also directed the chief secretary to provide one million soaps to the union councils of rural areas for distribution among the villagers.
He directed the chief secretary to take necessary measures for functionalizing the newly constructed hospitals almost in all the districts headquarters and taluka headquarters. “This is a difficult situation and we will have to further strengthen our healthcare system,” he said. Shah said that the people stuck up in Saudi Arabia, Iran, UK and others countries were set to return, therefore newly-constructed labour colonies at Nooriabad, Kotri, Hyderabad and Shaheed Benazirabad should be developed as isolation centers on the Sukkur model.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday night urged the nation not to panic, as the coronavirus will spread but the nation will collectively fight to overcome it, God willing. In his address to the nation, the prime minister remarked, “ghabrana nahin hai (need not to panic)” and cautioned that the number of cases of coronavirus would rise but the life and death was in the hands of Allah Almighty and human beings could only make efforts. He called upon the public to take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading while also urged religious scholars to guide the people in coping with the challenge, maintaining cleanliness. He emphasised that the war of coronavirus could not be fought by the government alone and that Chinese government had fought it long with its people and it had now been almost overcome.
The prime minister expressed the resolve that this war would have to be won with responsibility and adopting precautionary measures. He explained going to large gatherings be avoided and gathering of over 40 be avoided as well as staying in closed rooms, handshakes while hands be washed repeatedly, ensuring cleanliness. He referred to a divine saying of the Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) regarding cleanliness.
However, he emphasised that the virus was dangerous for elderly people or those having weak immune system. He also explained that the virus was a sort of flu, which spread rapidly while 97 per cent cases recover completely and among these, 90 per cent suffer from mild flu and 4-5 per cent have to go to hospital and need treatment. He also said that extreme care was also required, as this virus was coming from outside and in two-week time, through observation, it could be confirmed whether someone suffered from it or not. He said flu or cough does not mean it is because of the virus. “There is no need to panic. We shall fight it as a nation with courage and win over it,” he said.
The premier said the economic committee would review the effects the Covid-19 crisis would have on the economy and added that an artificial shortage of basic commodities would be created, which would cause the prices to go up. However, he warned the hoarders and profiteers, who would try to take undue advantage of the people’s helplessness and asserted that the state would take action against them with full force.
He pointed out that even developed countries could not curb the Covid-19 and added that a suggestion was floated for a national shutdown but it was not possible in Pakistan, for our situation was not the same like that of the US or Europe in terms of joblessness and poverty. The prime minister contended that a shutdown would only lead to more problems and complications. "Our people will die from hunger if we impose a national shutdown to save them from coronavirus," he said. He explained the government response to the virus and said that Pakistan started from January 15 on prevention of it by screening people at airports and 0.9 million persons were screened while the first case was reported on February 26 and the National Security Committee had its meetings last week anticipating surfacing of more cases. The response of various countries, he noted, were studied while Italy did nothing and then opted for lockdown and the UK adopted an entirely different approach and the US also did nothing initially and now entire cities were being shut.
The government then decided to close down educational institutions and the National Coordination Committee was formed, which also remains in touch with the chief ministers of the provinces as well as the NDMA, which was provided funds for purchase of equipment as well as ventilators for which orders were placed already.
An experts team, he said, was constantly studying and reviewing the situation from medical point of view and President Dr Arif Alvi was in China to find out how we could further learn from their experience. He said maximum effort would be made to prevent it from spreading, as human beings could only make efforts. He noted the government had realised the severity of the problem and all possible steps were being taken to overcome the threats arising out of this pandemic. The prime minister underlined the need to sensitize masses on the seriousness of the issue and create public awareness on the precautionary measures.
He said that the committee of medical experts was studying methods of medical treatments undertaken by various countries, including China, to check this virus. The prime minister said coronavirus had engulfed the entire world and he had instructed the embassies to help out as much as possible the overseas Pakistanis in these difficult times. He said he had full realisation of the Pakistani students stuck in Wuhan city and how much difficulties they had to face and their parents also passed through a very difficult time but the good news was that China had almost overcome the virus and while cases in the world were going up, they were coming down in China.
The premier highly appreciated the government of Balochistan and the Pakistan Army for taking special arrangements to fight the virus, with special reference to the Zaireen at Taftan border, where logistics was extremely difficult and they quarantined people there with great difficulty. He urged Ulema and religious scholars to fully support the government in its endeavours to purge the nation of this virus and create awareness among the people about this virus, as to how important it was to adopt precautionary measures.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the world community should consider writing off the debt of countries such as Pakistan as the economies around the world slow down as an aftereffect of coronavirus pandemic. The world community has to think of some sort of a debt write off for countries like us which are very vulnerable. At least that will help us in coping with it, he said.
The prime minister believed that the economic sanctions imposed on Iran should be lifted as the country is in a terrible state right now. “I actually fear for what is happening in Iran too because the sanctions have already you know impoverished Iran on top of it this virus,” he added.
As part of the national effort and in line with the decisions of National Security Committee (NSC) taken on March 13, all medical facilities of the Armed Forces are operationalised and geared up to meet any eventuality to deal with the pandemic, the ISPR said on Tuesday. The Covid-19 testing labs are established at major military hospitals across the country and central testing lab at Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), Rawalpindi. The Covid-19 help desk is established at each military hospital for fast track handling.
The ISPR said the armed forces are fully involved in assisting the government and provincial administrations to tackle the situation since the outbreak and duly vigilant of the developing situation post Covid-19. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa has also directed all commanders to take maximum necessary measures to assist the civil administration for safety and wellbeing of the people of Pakistan.
Army chief directed to take steps to assist the civil administration for safety of people in wake of coronavirus. Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday asked the ministry concerned to renegotiate with the local as well as international power companies in the given situation to ensure relief to consumers, as the accords signed by the past rulers, had pushed them to tunnel in terms of higher tariff.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan said this giving briefing to media persons about the federal cabinet decisions. She was flanked by Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and CII Chairman Qibla Ayaz while Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan joined them afterwards. Presided over by the prime minister, the meeting took stock of various key national matters, including the national security, public welfare-oriented initiatives and the issue of coronavirus, which had gripped the entire world.
Replying to questions, she accused the opposition of doing politics on a national challenge in the shape of coronavirus, which reflected their shallow mentality. She insisted the challenge at hand underscored the need for unity and harmony to lend a helping hand to the government to meet this challenge but the opposition was trying to create divisions and indulge in point scoring, putting behind what was need of the hour.
However, she welcomed the suggestions floated by the opposition, assuring that these would be reflected in the government strategy. About the opposition’s allegation of the government’s delayed response to the virus, she explained that Pakistan’s ground realities, regional situation and economic situation was entirely different to the advanced nations. She noted that Pakistan was the 48th country to be hit by the virus, none could predict while the situation of Italy, the United States and the UK was before all as well as China with its most advanced technology.
Regarding the foreign funding case, she said that if their leader in real terms had pain of the nation, then they should ask him to return from London and be seen among people to combat the menace of coronavirus. “But they have nothing to do with the people and before talking about foreign funding, the beneficiary of the foreign funding should give date of homecoming. Instead of doing lipservice, they should end their pleasure trip with their children and join people,” she stressed.
She continued that instead of wearing fashionable hats, they should come back and help in combating the virus. She added the cabinet was apprised of the overall situation relating to coronavirus and the steps taken by the National Coordination Committee to deal with it.
The meeting was told that the committee was working in cooperation with provincial governments to monitor the situation and take steps, which were also being informed to public on daily basis. Dr. Firdous explained Adviser on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, while giving briefing on budget strategy paper, said that unprecedented achievements had been made in a relative shorter period of time.
The cabinet, she noted, overviewed the amount spent on food security, health, higher education, tourism and other sectors. While the forum was informed that present government had paid Rs5,000 billion debt (interest), financially empowered the ministries and increased revenue by 17 percent.
Minister of Religious Affairs Dr Noorul Haq Qadri said that all big gatherings of all religions had been postponed in a bid to contain spread of the coronavirus, whereas functions and gatherings of other religions like Holi had also been postponed. He said that it would be better to avoid handshake in the given situation and there should be minimum number of people during prayers at mosques. He said anyone involved in causing disturbance on sectarian lines would be deemed as a heinous crime. Religious scholars, he explained, would be approached at divisional, district level to help create awareness among people about the virus.
Speaking on the occasion, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology Qibla Ayaz appealed to the Ulema to come forward and play their due role in creating awareness regarding precautionary measures against coronavirus, spelt out by the government and experts. Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that National Security Committee's decision of diverting international flights to Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi airports had been reviewed and now all international flights are allowed to operate on other international airports of the country, except Gwadar and Turbat airports from Saturday.
He said all the international flights coming to Pakistan would be disinfected properly, while passengers on domestic flights would have to pass through the screening procedure on arrival and departure.
Meanwhile, six new cases of novel coronavirus have been emerged in Punjab pushing the total number of cases in the country to 212. Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid on Tuesday confirmed that there were six coronavirus patients in the province, including five in Dera Ghazi Khan and one in Lahore.
Addressing a news conference flanked by Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan here, she said five out of the first group of 42 pilgrims, who had returned from Iran, were confirmed as Covid-19 patients in Dera Ghazi Khan and one in Lahore.
Some 736 pilgrims were being kept in the D G Khan Quarantine Centre, she said, adding complete safety of the doctors and paramedical staff performing duties at the isolation wards, quarantine centers and airports was being ensured. Dr Yasmin advised the people to adopt precautionary measures, stay at homes and avoid unnecessary traveling.
She said the Tayyip Erdogan Hospital Muzaffargarh, Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute Lahore, Urology Hospital Rawalpindi and Civil Hospital Bahawalpur had been designated for coronavirus treatment, while one hospital in every division of the province would be made a quarantine centre.
Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said the Punjab government had taken effective measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. He asked the traders not to hoard sanitizers, face masks and other direly needed items, and warned them of strict action if found indulged in the malpractice.