KARACHI/PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD: Sindh will go under a three-day lockdown, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced on Friday, as the province reported its first death from coronavirus, while the countrywide confirmed infections rose to 501.
Sindh has reported 252 cases, followed by Punjab with 96 cases, Balochistan with 92 cases, Gilgit-Baltistan with 30 cases, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 23 cases, Islamabad with seven cases and Azad Kashmir with one case. Globally, 176 countries have been affected, more than 10,000 people have died and more than 245,000 infected by the disease as it spreads rapidly to new territories.
"People should go into complete isolation for three days," Murad Ali Shah said during the 23rd meeting of the provincial task force on coronavirus. "It is important for people to remain inside their homes" for themselves and other’s safety.
During its briefing to the committee, the Sindh Health Department informed the participants that there were 151 cases in Sukkur. The results of 420 samples from Sukkur Phase 2 were yet to be released as were those of 83 samples from Larkana. The local cases in Sindh, on the other hand, rose to 51, the provincial Health Department told the meeting.
"1,874 suspected cases of coronavirus were brought to the public hospitals today. Of these, 21 have been tested," the department added." 702 suspected cases of coronavirus were brought to the private hospitals. Of these, five have been tested.”
Murad Ali Shah said the rising number of Sindh's local cases was extremely concerning. "This is why I'm appealing to the people to stayinside their homes. People need not only save themselves but their children as well," he added.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) for Sindh Mushtaq Mahar said late Friday no more than five people should gather in cars, on the roads or any other location and that legal action would be taken in case of violation.
"The first and foremost action against a pandemic is to limit people's movement. People should reduce their travelling (inside the city) to as less as possible," Mahar added.
Unnecessary meeting, gatherings, and social communication should be avoided, the IGP noted, adding that police should issue a clear guidance on the limitation on people's movement. The government of Sindh refuted claims of a curfew in Karachi, with the provincial education minister, Saeed Ghani, saying reports on social media about a curfew in the metropolis were wrong.
"No such decision has been made. We have only appealed to the people to stay inside their homes on March 21, 21, and 23 -- the Pakistan Day public holiday," Ghani said. "People should not go outside during these three days."
Separately, the provincial education minister said on Twitter no decision had been made to impose a province-wide lock-down or curfew. CM Shah, he added, had appealed to people to stay inside their homes on the aforementioned three days. "I also request the media not to spread any information without confirmation in this emergency situation," he added.
The Sindh government has also made a programme to provide pension to pensioners at their home.
Meanwhile, with another death reportedly caused by the fast-travelling COVID-19 in KP, Chief Minister Mehmood Khan decided to establish an emergency control room at his secretariat for better coordination of all activities undertaken to effectively handle the coronavirus pandemic in the province.
Also, another group of 250 ‘zaireen’ (pilgrims) coming from Iran reached Dera Ismail Khan from the border town of Taftan in Balochistan on Friday. All of them were quarantined at the Mufti Mehmood Teaching Hospital in Dera Ismail Khan. Adviser to chief minister on information and provincial focal person on COVID-19, Ajmal Wazir said that another batch of 170 pilgrims had earlier reached Dera Ismail Khan from Taftan and were sent their hometowns in Gilgit-Baltistan. In Dera Ismail Khan, a woman died in the quarantine centre of Mufti Mehmood Teaching Hospital.
There were conflicting reports about the cause of the death, though Ajmal Wazir claimed she died of heart failure. Neither Health Minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra nor Dr Qasim Ali, the focal person of ECR, was available to clarify the cause of her death in the quarantine centre.
If the latest death is officially attributed to COVID-19, it would be the third person to die in KP. Of the 481 total confirmed positive cases in Pakistan, KP has so far reported 23 cases. The majority were among those who arrived from Iran and stayed in Taftan at the quarantine centres, which have been heavily criticized for lacking in everything.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan sounded optimistic that hot and dry weather in the country will help mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, urging citizens to exercise social distancing and self-discipline so as to eliminate chances of its spike.
Imran Khan also urged the nation to adopt social distancing as a precautionary measure against the threat of spread of the pandemic. He emphasised that it was very important that people who show symptoms of coronavirus, must self-quarantine. He was talking to TV anchorpersons in the federal capital.
While heaping praise on China for bravely and steadfastly combating the challenge of the virus, he strongly urged the world community that the sanctions on Iran must be lifted, as he said it was great injustice that on one front it was dealing with coronavirus while on the other, there were sanctions on it.
He continued that the people should also limit their social gatherings for the next one or two months, saying the situation was being monitored and tracked on daily basis to gauge its impacts while experiences of various countries, especially China, were being utilised to tackle the menace of coronavirus.
“Nothing would be censored or hidden from public,” he said, and added that if it would be held back how many were the cases, then it would be injustice on the country and how would then the government be able to take action accordingly. “It is in our interest to share information and know how many cases are there so that action could then be taken,” he said. He noted a constant awareness campaign would also continue for the situation was evolving.
The prime minister contended, “We can manage. There is a difference of opinion, but some doctors say that the type of heat Pakistan experiences, that makes the virus lose its effectiveness to spread. If we exercise discipline for the next month-and-a-half, and avoid going to public places, and if those showing symptoms self-quarantine, then the spread of the virus can be controlled.”
The prime minister ruled out the immediate possibility of a complete lockdown despite the number of coronavirus cases increasing on a daily basis, saying, “For now we have enforced a ban on all public gatherings. But we are one step behind imposing a total lockdown like in Karachi, and there is a reason for this. Our situation cannot be compared to, for example, Italy; their per capita income and their economic situation are much better than ours.”
“If we impose a nation-wide lockdown, we fear for our daily wage workers and labourers. What will they do for the next weeks. Keeping these things in mind, the government has decided to introduce incentives for the construction industry that will be announced next week on Tuesday. The objective of this is to provide people with employment and to keep the economy running,” he said.
Responding to questions, he emphasised that the accurate reporting of number of cases in the country was in our interest. He added because it was in our interest, the government would give daily briefings to the public to make people aware of our actual position.
Imran Khan said work was underway on creating a financial package and all the stakeholders, including the State Bank of Pakistan, the Ministry of Finance and FBR were involved in the preparation of this package to provide incentives.
The prime minister pointed out that some controversies were being pushed and a blame-game was on in relation to inflow from Taftan border and it was regrettable that Chief Minister Balochistan Jam Kamal felt that fingers were being raised at him. The prime minister said that the government decided to take action from January 15 and keep a constant vigil and remained in touch with China, fearing the virus would come from China, as scores of their people worked here and many Pakistani students were also there. And, then zaireen from Iran’s Qom started returning and the government got in touch with the Iranian government as to how to deal with it.
The prime minister cautioned the media from spreading panic and said that chaos would be even more dangerous than the virus, adding the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) would be provided guidelines for the TV channels on this count. He pointed out that supermarkets in Europe ran out of supplies due to panic buying and warned that such a situation could trigger in Pakistan, as none could say what would be the situation from here onwards.
Special Assistant to PM National Health Services Dr. Zafar Mirza said there the National Coordination Committee felt that there was a need to manage certain things to handle the national issue of coronavirus for which a central data system was being evolved to share verified information on daily basis.
Meanwhile, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal said that the institution has established an isolation ward in all major hospitals and 4-6 beds rooms have been declared as isolation wards in other hospitals in view of coronavirus cases.
Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal elaborated the arrangements for health safety and medical treatment in hospitals across the country to contain COVID-19 pandemic. “We have stock of 15,000 masks at this time and a supply of more 50,000 will reach tonight (Friday). Alibaba.com will also provide 15,000 masks Pakistan. N95 facemasks are only for those working in hospitals.”
“The availability of ventilators is very difficult on international-level, whereas, other countries have booked productions for one year in China. Due to the efforts of Chinese envoy in Pakistan, we will get 1,000 ventilators. Moreover, 30,000 infrared guns are being imported from China.”
The NDMA chairman said nine major hospitals have been prepared across the country besides construction of 1600-bed hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said all public service providing government offices in the federal capital would remain closed for two weeks.
Dr Firdous, in a tweet, said the safety and security of the people was the government’s top priority. The directives issued by the government were for all the employees working in different departments. “The staff or officers deputed on special duty will have to attend the office whereas those of 50 years of age or older are required to work from home,” she added.
Similary, she said, the employees suffering from diarrhoea, cold, fever or any other ailment would also work from home. The SAPM said day-care centres in the offices would remain closed whereas the female staff and mothers of newborns were allowed to work from home.
She said in the wake of increasing risk of coronavirus, the excise and taxation, and property offices, and beauty salons would also be shut down for 15 days.
However, she said, shopping malls would be closed at 10 pm while for the convenience of the public, dining restaurants, food outlets and takeaway facilities would remain available. She mentioned Nadra, Passport and Immigration Office, CDA’s One Window and all other departments, where direct dealing with the people was made, had also been closed for two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government has sought help of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif for provision of necessary medical facilities to the Iranian coronavirus patients in the face of economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
In a letter to Shahbaz Sharif, Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Seyyed Muhammad Ali Hossein said the US Sanctions regime deprives the Iranian nation of its right to life and right to health, so it is considered a systematic violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.
“The US sanctions regime is in direct violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 2231. At this critical time of corona pandemic, any attempt to deprive a nation from the necessary resources to address the epidemic situation is equal to crime against humanity, since it puts the health and life of every human being at risk,” he said.
While Prime Minister Imran Khan has very befittingly elevated the government’s response to the highest level by involving the apex National Security Committee in planning interventions on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), Pakistan needs to take more unified and coordinated action—with the provinces and the society fully on board—in order to bend the disease curve.
Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Pakistan Dr Palitha Mahipala expressed views to this effect at a press briefing held at the WHO Country Office. The briefing had a two-fold purpose: to apprise the media of WHO’s role as the lead technical health agency assisting Pakistan in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and to sensitise the media on how it can appease a panic situation by introducing the ‘Whole of Society’ approach, with a focus on changing mindsets vis-à-vis hand hygiene and social distancing.
Flanked by WHO colleagues leading interventions such as outbreak response, isolation, prevention and control, and communications, among other areas, Dr Palitha shared global, regional and national data on the COVID-19 pandemic.
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