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Army orders deployment of troops, medical resources

Top Story

March 24, 2020

RAWALPINDI: The government Monday called out the armed forces in aid of the civil authorities across the country to tackle COVID-19.

Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar said Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa had ordered deployment of available troops and medical resources despite heavy deployment on the Line of Control (LoC) and the western borders.

In a presser, Gen Iftikhar said the federal government in exercise of powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution had requisitioned the armed forces in aid of the civil authorities. He said as per the measures taken by the federal and provincial governments, all kinds of public transport would remain off road while the intercity transport would be allowed to keep the food supply chain going.

He said petrol pumps and wholesale fruit and vegetable markets (Mandis) would be opened on days notified by the respective governments.

Only hospitals, food stuff stores and factories manufacturing medical equipment and medical stores would remain open. The educational institutions would remain closed and there would also be a ban on all kinds of gatherings across the country. “All the shopping malls, restaurants, cinemas, wedding halls, swimming pools are closed while unnecessary movement is stopped,“ Major General Babar Iftikhar said adding that all airports would be closed for international flights till April 4.

He maintained that the armed forces would ensure implementation of guidelines already issued by the civil governments with the support of civil authorities. “We have closed the geographical borders but the real border is between the human beings and coronavirus which we have to control. This is a difficult time to take strict decisions as an individual, family community and as society,” he added.

He said the task at hand was enormous and difficult but the world had seen resilience of the Pakistani nation in 2005 earthquake, 2010 floods and war on terror.

“The current challenge is once again testing our nationhood but this time the threat is of different nature, the likes of which have not been seen in our life time,” he said.

Gen Iftikhar maintained that the armed forces stood with the nation to overpower the threat saying that limiting the movement while keeping in view the world’s best practices was the best and effective protection.

“But screening, testing, and contact tracing is also important and in this regard the armed forces will support all the civil institutions at all entry points,” he said, adding that so far screening of one million passengers had been ensured.

He said 12,000 screening tests had been conducted in the last 24 hours. He reaffirmed the commitment that the armed forces with the cooperation and support of the nation would be able to overcome the challenge.

“We will ensure security and other safety measures at the quarantine camps established across the country,” he said. He said COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa had donated his one month salary to the emergency fund created to defeat the pandemic.

He said brigadiers and lieutenant generals would donate their three-day and officers up to the rank of colonel would donate their two-day salaries, while JCOs and soldiers would donate their one-day salary.

In a related development, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa chaired a Special Corps Commanders Conference at the General Headquarters (GHQ) on the single point agenda of COVID-19.

According to the ISPR, the corps commanders participated in the conference through a video link from their respective corps headquarters.

The forum reviewed the countrywide spread of COVID-19 and deliberated army’s readiness to assist the civil administration in containing the pandemic.

All available troops of the Pakistan Army have been tasked with assisting activities in concert with the civil administration on short notice.

“Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation.

The Pakistan Army being part of national effort shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty InshAllah,” COAS said.

Meanwhile, in a statement Interior Minister Brig (R) Ijaz Shah said troops had been called under Article 245 of the Constitution to protect people and fight out the Coronavirus.

A notification issued by the interior ministry said, “Pursuant to the request from the office of the chief commoner vide letter NO. 1 (1) Home 2021 dated 22 March 2020, the competent authority in exercise of powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan and Section 131-A of CrPC 1898 is pleased to authorize the deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) depending upon the requirement to be worked out by the ICT administration in liaison with the Army authorities in connection with the prevailing situation related to the spread of COVID-19 and matters ancillary thereto, subject to laws enforced in Pakistan.”

Similar notifications were issued for the Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The notifications come at a time when the number of affected cases in the country have soared past 800 and six people have succumbed to the infection.

The Sindh government imposed a province-wide lockdown on Sunday, while the Punjab government decided to take important decisions to encourage social distancing and self-quarantine.

The lockdown in Sindh was imposed for 15 days. In Punjab, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ordered the closure of all unnecessary shops and banned pillion riding. Section 144 was also imposed to continue for 14 days.

Buzdar said grocery stores, fruit markets, bakeries, and meat shops would not be subject to the lockdown's conditions. He clarified that the province was not undergoing a lockdown or a curfew.

"I want to make it clear to you that this is neither a curfew nor a lockdown," he said, adding, "We are bringing a little changing [in the situation]," he added.

The chief minister announced that all non-essential shops and services would remain closed. Interior Minister Ijaz Shah announced deployment of troops in support of civilian administration under Section 131-A. Initially, the troops have been deployed till April 6, 2020.

He made it clear that the federal government was not deciding about complete lockdown because it could have serious implications for the country.

Talking to a private news channel, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan in his address to the nation had asked the masses to go into self-isolation because taking precautionary measures was better than cure.

The minister said calling out the armed forces should not be considered as lockdown because they always assisted governments to cope with any calamity.

He said the World Health Organisation has lauded the prompt response of Pakistani government to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

In view of the rising alarming situation of Coronavirus pandemic, the civil administration of Islamabad has filed a plea for deployment of military for assisting the civil administration in the federal capital and other four provinces of the country.

The troops will ensure implementation of the lockdown and preventive measures against the virus. Section 144 has already been imposed earlier in the federal capital and gathering of people of any sort has also been banned in the capital.

Addressing a joint media conference in Islamabad, Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal Monday said around 125 ton procured goods, comprising medical equipment, safety masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and other necessary items, would reach from China increasing Pakistan’s capacity to fight the coronavirus.

He said the Authority had planned a three-phase strategy against the COVID-19 outbreak. In the first phase, there were three main objectives to mainly ensure proper checking of foreigners and overseas Pakistanis coming to the country, detection of COVID-19 and ensure that they did not transfer virus to others.

Gen Afzal was flanked by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (SAPM) Dr Zafar Mirza, SAPM on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf and Minister for National Food Security and Research Khusro Bakhtiar.

He said initially 15 days were taken to ensure the above facilities at all the airports adding that the major issue in this endeavor was a lack of personal protective equipment for health workers.

“We planned to provide it to the health workers by April 5 but it would be supplied by 30th March. We are in contact with vendors in China through the Pakistan Embassy to procure testing kits, ventilators and other goods and negotiations are underway to get these items,” he added.

He thanked the governor State Bank of Pakistan for opening one window despite a holiday for payment of money to the Chinese vendors for getting the medical equipment.

“At least, four banks are active at the moment to assist the NDMA in transactions to be carried out and before the day ends, the NDMA will send the money to all the vendors in China.

In the second phase, he said around 100 ventilators would be arranged which would be augmented to 1,200 and then to 4,000 across the country in the third phase.

China, he said, had already given 15 ventilators whereas 14 ton personal protective equipment and some ventilators would be sent on Friday as told by the Chinese ambassador.

He said the NDMA engineers had prepared a local ventilator which would be demonstrated before him on Tuesday (today).

He said the NDMA officials were also busy preparing pollution masks, N-95 masks and safety gowns. The NDMA experts have also prepared necessary chemicals and sanitizers whereas the stock position would further boost our capacity in the next month, he said.

“We want to increase our testing capacity to 1-1.5 million tests where after receiving the procured medical equipment, our country in a month will be in the position to fight this pandemic, he said.

He said the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) planes would bring the procured goods and a team of Chinese experts would also come by the same plane.

The Chinese experts would visit our provinces and analyze our arrangements and guide us to further improve our efforts against the coronavirus outbreak, he added.

He appreciated the efforts of Chinese people and overseas Pakistanis and said, “Many brothers in China have helped us to get these items.”

General Afzal said the owner of Alibaba (Mr. Jack Ma) was going to provide Pakistan 500,000 safety masks on Wednesday whereas the next day 50,000 corona testing kits would be sent to Pakistan.

Province-wide coronavirus situation: A total of 25 new coronavirus cases were reported from across the Punjab on Monday, taking the number of confirmed patients to 250. Out of 25 new cases, as many as 18 have been reported from Lahore.

On the other hand, out of 19 Chinese patients suspected of coronavirus who were admitted to the Services Hospital, the diagnostic tests of four Chinese patients have been confirmed positive and remaining 15 patients were cleared.

The four Chinese patients have been kept in an isolation ward at the Services Hospital. However, these cases were diagnosed after the official report of 21 cases in the province released on Monday. It takes the tally of new cases to 25 and overall 250 patients in Punjab.

According to corona monitoring room at Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, 177 corona patients are pilgrims, who recently returned from Iran. As many as 52 patients are under treatment in Lahore, four each in Gujranwala and Gujrat, three each in Rawalpindi and Jhelum, two in Multan and one in Sargodha.

As per the spokesman, all patients were getting treatment at isolation wards. He urged all the people, who recently returned from abroad, to stay at home and contact the department on helpline on getting symptoms. They will be shifted to health facility for free test and treatment, he added.

As many as 42 new cases were reported in Sindh on Monday including three in Karachi and 39 among the Zaireen from Iran, who are being kept at the Sukkur Quarantine, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in the province to 394.

Three more people tested positive for the coronavirus in Karachi, raising the local transmission cases to 83 in the province, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah was told on Monday.

The chief minister was informed that 39 pilgrims from Iran, who are kept in quarantine in Sukkur, have also tested positive for the viral ailment. So far, 1,782 pilgrims from Iran were tested, of which, 260 tested positive. This information was given in the 26th meeting of Taskforce on coronavirus held here under the chairmanship of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah.

The meeting was attended by provincial ministers, Mayor Karachi, Chief Secretary, IG Sindh, PSCM, Adl Chief Secretary Home, Adl IG, representatives of WHO, Aga Khan, Indus hospitals, Corps V, Rangers, Civil Aviation, FIA, Focal Person of health dept and others.

The chief minister was told that the tally of coronavirus cases has reached to 394. They include 134 in Karachi and other districts, 151 of Zaireen of Sukkur phase-1 and 109 of Sukkur Phase-II. The number of local transmission of viral cases have reached to 83. At this the chief minister said that this was the motivating reason for the difficult decision to lock down to put a stop to the local transmission. The Health department has so far conducted 3,450 tests, of them 3,020 declared as negative while 394 came positive. In Sindh 10 cases were reported on March 9, 25 cases on March 18, 21 cases on March 21. At present 1,099 Zaireen are under treatment at Sukkur, 83 at Larkana and 98 at Malir.

The meeting was informed that the overall current capacity of coronavirus samples tests in 10 hospitals at Sindh is 1,200 per day to which the chief minister said that he has provided necessary resources and therefore the capacity must be increased to 3,400 per day. It may be noted that the province was managing 180 tests per day in the last week.

In a related development, according to the daily report submitted by 29 government hospitals 1,874 cases of pneumonia were dealt by them and 18 were tested for COVID-19 while the private hospitals reported 702 cases and 19 required to be tested for the viral epidemic. Meanwhile, the chief minister was told that six international flights brought 987 passengers and all of them were screened. One passenger was found suspect and his sample was sent for test. There were 14 local flights and three of them were cancelled. The local flights brought 918 passengers and two of them were coronavirus suspects and their samples were sent for test. The chief minister directed IG Police to further tighten the lockdown.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has directed Finance department to start giving pension to retired employees from March 25. “The elderly people have weak immune system and they should not be allowed to gather at bank at one time,” he said. He also urged the pensions to start drawing their pensions from March 25 and adopt proper precautions while doing so in crowd.

Meanwhile, the chief minister in order to control the expenditures of the provincial government in the wake of coronavirus pandemic has decided to withhold payments of commutation, gratuity, and encashment of LPR and only allow regular salary and pensions. The secretary finance issued necessary directives to the Accountant General Sindh and district account officers, treasury officers to that effect.

Meanwhile, amid the province-wide lockdown and public holidays for next week, seven more positive cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Monday, raising the total number of positive cases 38.

Adviser to the Chief Minister on Information and Public Relations and provincial focal person for coronavirus Ajmal Wazir said the KP government had suspended the public transport and declared a public holiday for the rest of the week.

He said restaurants, shopping malls, markets had been shut for another week, including public holidays for next week. Also, Chief Secretary Kazim Niaz took notice of the situation in Manga Union Council in Mardan, where the coronavirus had taken first life in Pakistan and believed to have infected other people in the same vicinity.

He directed the Khyber Medical University (KMU) to send a team of technical experts and evaluate the situation there.

According to sources, the chief secretary wants the technical experts to collect exact data of the number of suspected patients and those who got infected from other villagers.

Also, the chief secretary ordered the lockdown of Manga village and better arrangements for the population so that the virus would not spread to other people in the nearby hamlets.

Senior government officials seemed satisfied on Monday, believing that things were heading in the right direction, as there was no positive case in the province. However, by evening, the KP reported seven new positive cases.

Talking to The News, Ajmal Wazir confirmed the seven new cases, saying three were reported from Peshawar, two from Mansehra and one each from Buner and Karak districts. Also, 235 more suspected coronavirus patients were admitted to different hospitals in the province.

Up to 448 suspected patients have been admitted to hospitals and screened so far. Among them, 120 patients were cleared while 38 tested positive for the coronavirus.

Three patients have lost their lives in KP thus far. The swab of 290 suspected patients has been sent to Khyber Medical University’s Public Health Reference Laboratory (PHRL) for investigations. The KMU lab is well-equipped and was in the process of installation when COVID19 broke out in the country and hit KP as well.

The chief secretary and KMU Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Arshad Javaid took a keen interest in operationalising the laboratory. The chief secretary immediately provided funds to the laboratory and enabled it to serve the patients in the current crisis. Previously, swab used to be sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad.

The laboratory in KMU would now conduct 700 tests in one day, thus saving time and resources of the patients.

According to the sources, the next few days are very important as swab of 250 patients, who returned from Iran and got quarantined in Dera Ismail Khan, was sent to KMU and the results are expected to be released today (Tuesday). Besides the patients quarantined in DI Khan, Ajmal Wazir said the KP government received 132 more “Zairean” from Dera Ghazi Khan. They were brought in four buses to Peshawar and would be quarantined in the spacious building of Provincial Health Services Academy in Dauranpur.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan on Monday visited the 150-bed quarantine centre where Dr Ayub Roz, director-general PHSA, briefed him about the arrangements made for the suspected coronavirus patient. Ayub Roz said they had eatables quarantine and isolation centres in the PHSA building. Kazim Niaz, Health Minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra and other officials accompanied the chief minister.

In a related development, the Election Commission of Pakistan Monday postponed the polling for Sindh constituency PS-52 (Umerkot), which was to be held on April 15.

The decision was taken in view of the prevailing situation with regard to the coronavirus and the government of Sindh’s measures. The new date for electoral exercise will be announced afterwards.

As many as six people out of a group of 13 people tested positive in Bhara Kahu, Islamabad on Monday.

The 13 people, including six foreigners, were part of a Tablighi Jamaat team posted in Kot Hathial, said ASP Bhara Kahu Hamza Amanullah.

“One of the foreigners tested positive. We tested five more people from the group and the results came back positive,” ASP Hamza said. He said six more people from the group were also being tested. The entire area of Bhara Kahu has been turned into a quarantine center.

The district administration will also conduct tests on other suspects in the area. Police have been deployed at the entry and exit points of Kot Hathial. All the shops in Bhara Kahu has also been closed except for dairy and grocery shops.

In a related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan is all set to unveil a relief package of over Rs1 trillion on Tuesday (today) for different sectors of economy in order to ward off the negative impacts caused by coronavirus spread in Pakistan.

“Yes, we are working on providing a relief package of over Rs1 trillion to different sectors of economy including exporters, construction industry, hotel industry, daily wagers, agriculture sector, consumers of energy sectors and others to offset negative effects of coronavirus in Pakistan,” top official sources confirmed to The News on Monday.

The government is considering options for providing relief on account of electricity and gas bills and POL prices on the domestic market.

The government is also considering monthly stipend in the range of Rs3,000 to 7 million daily wagers for complete or partial shutter-down.

Official sources said export orders cancelled or delayed were was estimated to cause a loss of $2 to $4 billion during March-June period of the current fiscal year.

The government has finalized a package of Rs200 billion for providing financing and ensuring release of stuck-up refunds of export-oriented sectors at an accelerated pace in order to provide relief on their liquidity crunch.

“The government has directed the FBR to work out details of expected amount of refunds on immediate basis,” said the sources adding that PM Imran Khan would announce release of expected refunds amount through a proposed relief package.

The Sindh government has adopted a strategy to distribute monthly stipend through the charity organizations. However, the federal government has decided to utilize data of BISP and the amount would be distributed among the beneficiaries through Ehsas program.

The government is also considering increasing monthly stipend amount for BISP beneficiaries. According to official statement issued by Ministry of Finance on Monday, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh chaired a meeting with Governor Sindh Imran Ismail and business community from Karachi through a video conferencing.

The businessmen, including representatives from the garments and textile sector, pharmaceutical industry, Pakistan Stock Exchange and tourism and hotel industry, gave proposals regarding the issues they had been facing and the assistance they required from the government.

They requested that they should be enabled to look after their daily wagers in the next 2-3 months and be provided with assistance to carry on their businesses with improvement in their liquidity position.

The Adviser to PM said, “The government is facing a challenging situation and in this challenging situation, the prime objective of the government was to do three things. A) Contain the Virus, B) provide health care facilities, essential food items at affordable rates and help maintain enough cash in hand to the common man and C) provide help and assistance to the business community to run their businesses during the times of the pandemic without a permanent set back to the economy. For this, we are seeking proposals and working on them; we are hoping to give a plan that is simple and implementable to meet our objectives.”