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ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The Pakistan Army has come to the aid of civil administration to combat the threat of coronavirus as the Command and Control Centre announced the launch of a live national dashboard that will henceforth provide confirmed and authentic data and updates on the status of coronavirus in Pakistan.
According to latest reports, Pakistan now has 456 confirmed cases of COVID-19, their majority with a travel history. Sindh is the worst-affected province with 245 cases, followed by Balochistan (81), Punjab (78), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (23), Gilgit-Baltistan (21), Islamabad Capital Territory (7), and Azad Jammu andKashmir (1). There have been two confirmed deaths from the disease so far. The Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Minister for Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Director General ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar announced activation of the national data platform at a joint press conference held at the Command and Control Centre, with no media presence and only the state-run television channel recording the proceedings.
Major General Babar Iftikhar said the armed forces are fully prepared and activated to assist civil institutions to combat coronavirus across the country. “May Allah Almighty prevent the Pakistani nation from coronavirus pandemic. Pakistani armed forces is fully prepared and activated. We are utilising all resources along with civil institutions and in contact with the Centre and provinces to stop the spread of the virus,” he said.
“Army Chief has ordered all formations to provide maximum assistance to the civil administration across the country. All institutions of the armed forces are joint monitoring the developments in the affected areas,” he said, adding, “The military troops are also assisting civil administration for the construction of quarantine centres besides checking people on entrance spots. Six major airports are opened from March 21’s morning and personnel from armed forces are helping out airport managements in screening process.”
The DG ISPR said security forces and its sub-ordinate institutions have continued implementation of orders given by the higher authorities on land routes. The military spokesman detailed that a medical team of all three armed forces including Army, Navy and Air Force has been formed and sensitive surgeries are being made in medical facilities.
“Load management is being made in the medical facilities of the armed forces. A team of military troops is in contact with civil administration at Karachi’s Expo Centre and also assisted the construction of a mega quarantine camp with the capacity of 1,200 persons in Multan. Moreover, a team of specialist doctors from Pakistan Army visited Dera Ghazi Khan,” elaborated Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar.
He stressed the need of carrying out joint efforts on the national level to fight the pandemic. The spokesman also highlighted the importance of information in the fight against coronavirus.
“The scientists of armed forces are providing assistance to manufacture sanitizers and troops are being sent to the quarantined places. We have finalised crisis and risk management strategy to defeat the virus. The nation’s confidence in Pakistani armed forces is a precious asset,” he said.
Babar Iftikhar said the nation will face the challenge and defeat the pandemic with unity. Dr Zafar Mirza said the government functionaries have also decided to practice social distancing.
“There is no media at today’s press briefing. We will henceforth hold a daily briefing, with state-run TV recording the session and sharing it with the media,” Dr Zafar stated at the outset. He praised the provincial chief ministers and their designated focal persons for verifying all data before sharing it with the Command and Control Centre for uploading on the dashboard (http://covid.gov.pk/stats/pakistan).
Dr Zafar advised the media to refrain from misreporting cases and deaths in their haste to break news and hoped that they would draw confirmed figures from the dashboard only. “Unverified information is also a communicable disease. Please do not disseminate any information or data without prior authentication,” he added.
Dr Zafar said, China and Pakistan have had far-reaching discussions on cooperation in the health sector, and one outcome of the president’s recent visit to China is that in the next couple of days, communicable disease experts, clinicians and epidemiologists based in China will be guiding our health professionals on management of coronavirus through video conferencing.
“The first video conference will be facilitated by the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan. Experts from the provinces will also participate in the discussions. This will become a regular feature,” he said, adding, “The whole world is praising China for restricting and controlling this epidemic; we have many lessons to learn from them.”
Announcing measures to curtail the number of patients in hospital OPDs, Dr Zafar said, people with minor ailments should avoid hospital visits. “As a rule, only one attendant will be allowed to accompany a patient visiting the OPD or Emergency. Hospitalised patients will also have one attendant -- that too, during visiting hours only,” he stated. Dr Zafar said over-crowded OPDs where patients with compromised immunity sit in close proximity to each other, are ideal for spread of diseases, which is why many private hospitals have closed down their OPDs.
Dr Zafar said the government is alive to its responsibility of protecting its doctors, nurses and paramedics, who are at the forefront of this health crisis. “We will provide all necessary personal protective equipment to them soon, and in massive quantities,” he stated.
The SAPM also announced that medical students and health-related personnel will be recruited as volunteers and will be summoned, when needed. He also claimed having been approached by several private hospitals and professionals willing to share their services and expertise in the fight against coronavirus. “Some private hospitals have offered to hand over their buildings to us for use as quarantine facilities for COVID patients. I am truly grateful to all,” he said.
Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan stated that the provincial governments have been instructed to take instant action against hoarders and profiteers who are trying to create artificial shortages of food items and other supplies at this critical time. She added that a committee has been constituted under the finance minister’s chairmanship to analyse the possible impact of coronavirus on Pakistan’s economy.
Amid the sharp increase in coronavirus cases, the inter-city bus service has been suspended between Punjab and Sindh and public transport has been banned in Balochistan. The suspension of service has led to rush at bus stations with the passengers complaining that taxis and rickshaws were charging exorbitant fares.
Under the decree of Dar-ul-Afta of Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC), Wafaq-ul-Madaris Pakistan and Ulema from various schools of thought Friday prayer sermons will be cut short as precautionary measures and people will be advised to offer Sunnat prayers at home.
Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid has announced that 12 train stations will stop operating in the country from March 22.
The minister also announced that if there was a need then 20 more trains will be stopped. The minister also announced that cleanliness was being improved at all train stations.
Meanwhile, the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Thursday "we are heading towards a lock-down", a day after the country reported its first two deaths from coronavirus.
"The Sindh government took measures as soon as there was news of an outbreak in China," said Bilawal, as he addressed a press conference at the Sindh Assembly. He said that the outbreak of the virus is a serious situation and must be taken seriously by every citizen of Pakistan.
"I would like to emphasise that coronavirus is an extremely serious and life-threatening issue. It is ten times worse than the flu," said Bilawal, stressing that the mortality rate, while still not known definitively, is much higher than the flu. The PPP chairman said it was important to remember that the disease does not only affect the elderly and those with underlying conditions but can affect anyone.
He said that there was a dire need to work towards mitigating the spread of the contagion. "We are already too late. The statistics we have of other countries show us that there has been mitigation and a flattening of the curve (where strict quarantine measures were taken immediately)."
The PPP chairman said those countries identified and contained those who had the disease or were suspected to have it. The other measure taken by them was that of mass testing.
He said that the federal government now needs to focus on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by focusing on social distancing and isolation, and to maximise testing capabilities — a "two-pronged approach". "Sindh government on its own has arranged 10,000 testing kits," he said.
Bilawal said unity is the need of the hour and a joint strategy to combat the virus will have to be developed for our efforts to be effective. "We must not have our energies and focus geared towards criticism, blame and political scoring," he urged, while also stressing that the federal government will have to bring "some changes" in its action plan. He said Imran Khan is prime minister of the country and he won’t criticise him in the current situation. He hoped that the prime minister will lead the nation in this critical hour.
The PPP chairman said that the Sindh government will take up the responsibility of providing food supplies to the poor as they self isolate at home. "I assure you the Sindh government will take care of you," he said.
Army personnel will be deployed in Sindh to dispatch ration to the needy people. Bilawal said that the Sindh government is aware of the economic impact of the outbreak and will take "concrete measures to tackle it".
Earlier, the Sindh government announced it will provide one-month ration to the needy amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country. “We want to send ration bags to the needy at their homes,” Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said during a meeting, adding that 2000,000 ration bags would be provided in the first phase.
He added the ration bags would contain rice, flour and three different kinds of pulses, oil, sugar, tea, dry milk and spices.
The Sindh government also released Rs7.21 billion to tackle the novel coronavirus threat. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said that Rs6.9 billion of the total sum would be given to the provincial health department to buy medicines, equipment, generators, diet charges, sanitizers, kits, and swabs. The remaining Rs310 million would be allotted to Commissioner Sukkur Shafique Ahmed Mahesar in a bid to contain and combat the COVID-19 threat.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was Thursday given briefing on the measures so far taken with regard to precautionary measures against coronavirus.
The briefing was given to the prime minister by the NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal. Minister for Interior Brig R Ijaz Ahmad Shah was present on the occasion as well as CDA chairman. The prime minister was also apprised of the related measures taken in the Islamabad Capital Territory. The prime minister said coronavirus will be defeated with combined efforts.
Meanwhile, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid confirmed that a total of 78 patients have been tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the province.
Addressing a press conference, she said out of these 78 patients, 14 were confirmed positive in Lahore, four in Gujrat and 60 pilgrims in Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan. Of these 78 patients, 64 were confirmed COVID-19 positive during their tests conducted by the provincial government, while the remaining 14 patients were confirmed coronavirus positive by private laboratories in the province.
The Punjab government conducted tests of 384 patients for coronavirus out of which 64 were confirmed positive and the remaining 320 patients were tested negative.
The minister said Punjab has more than 500 rooms ready for isolation purposes. The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), she added, has a Level-3 laboratory and has been given half of the total COVID-19 testing kits. “We have kept the remaining kits with ourselves,” she added.
In Mardan, Union Council Manga has been put under lockdown after a coronavirus patient died in the area. District officials said all exit and entry points of the UC have been shut down. The lockdown has been placed for an indefinite period.
The administration of Peshawar has also declared a neighbourhood in University Town Peshawar as quarantine after reports were received about presence of people having coronavirus symptoms.
The authorities have closed all the entry and exit points to Canal Town at Shahzad Shaheed Road, Lane-B, University Town Peshawar and no one is allowed to enter or leave the area. The residents of the area have been directed to contact the government for help on helpline 1052 in case of any emergency situation.