LAHORE/KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Over 10 localities in Lahore were Saturday put under partial or complete lockdown after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.
According to the district administration, Bhatta Chowk, Sikandria Colony, Mughalpura, China Scheme and Shahdara in few areas of Saddar were put under complete lockdown, while various areas in Rustam Park and Gulshane-Ravi were put under complete or partial lockdown.
It is pertinent to mention here that Lahore is among the worst affected area in the province and the provincial authorities have taken measures, including lockdown and massive testing, to identify coronavirus hotspots in the city. The move to impose lockdown in Lahore areas came just after 11 union councils in Karachi were completely locked down on Saturday to contain further spread of the novel coronavirus. The police and Rangers told to ensure people stay within the marked off areas.
In Karachi, earlier in the day Deputy Commissioner East Ahmed Ali issued directives for sealing UC-6 Gillani Railways, UC-7 Dalmia, UC-8 Jamali Colony, UC-9 Gulshan-II, UC-10 Pehalwan Goth, UC-9 Jacob Line and UC – 10 Jamshaid Quarters. However, the Sindh government backed down on its decision to cordon off 11 union councils.
In a late night development, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah said the government will not seal entire union councils, rather "only those specific areas where cases have been reported will be sealed". "It will cause great inconvenience to the people if such large areas are completely closed off," he said.
Earlier in the day, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah issued a stark warning over threatening pace of growth of coronavirus cases in the province by disclosing death of at least six people during last 24 hours in Sindh, the highest number of deaths in a single day in the province. He went on to say that during the last 24 hours an alarming 104 new coronavirus cases, or 20 percent, were detected in the province which is the highest average across the globe. “This is a worrisome situation and its solution lies in social distancing and observing the lockdown in true letter in spirit.”
The chief minister said that during last 24 hours (Friday to Saturday 8am) 531 new samples were tested, of them 104 tested positive. “This is 20 percent of the total tested cases which is highest average of positive cases in the world,” he said and added now we have 1,318 positive cases in the province. Shah said that six patients died until Thursday morning and the number of patients who have died so far has reached to 28. “The death ratio has gone up to 2.1 percent,” he said.
The chief minister said that alarming growth coronavirus cases would determine how we lead our lives from now onwards. “To me, the choice is limited to lockdown, and now just a few more days are left for the present lockdown to complete and we all have to observe it in the true letter and spirit,” he said and added even in post-lockdown period it is critical that people ensure social distancing at work places, at homes and even in buses.
The chief minister said that the on-going lockdown was taken lightly due to which the number of cases in the city and other districts have started to increase. ‘I have ordered to further tighten the lockdown in Malir and other areas where more cases have been diagnosed,” he said and added “this is very serious matter and we would have to take it seriously.”
Opposing any extension in the lockdown, which is set to remain in force until April 14, Governor Sindh Imran Ismail has said it was not appropriate to extend the lockdown after the above mentioned date, as people were facing difficulties.
The PTI leader said he had been receiving complaints from the public. The province has been observing a strict lockdown since the middle of March, with the provincial government recently having extended the lockdown until April 14. Last week, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said lockdown rules may be revised on April 14, paving way for a little leniency.
Meanwhile, in a televised briefing, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza said Pakistan was witnessing a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilator.
From no more than 8 patients on ventilators a week ago, there are now 50 critical patients on life support in different parts of Pakistan, “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to act responsibly and to comply with social distancing restrictions. It will be a huge mistake to become carefree merely because there has not been as sharp an increase in the number of cases and deaths in Pakistan as expected,” Dr. Zafar Mirza forewarned.
The numbers, he said, could phenomenally increase if restrictions clamped by the federal and provincial governments were not strictly adhered to at the individual and collective levels.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umer said since April 9, as many as 1.098 million families across Pakistan had withdrawn Rs12,000 each, which ran up to Rs13.18 billion. “Never in the history of Pakistan has there been a social protection programme of the scale of Ehsaas Emergency Cash distribution, under which Rs144 billion will directly be disbursed to 12 million families living in poverty,” he stated.
Acknowledging the few snags witnessed in some provinces, he said, the process was, by and large, progressing smoothly with the support of city administrations.
Dr. Zafar said to contribute their share to Ehsaas, Serena Hotel and HBL had launched ‘Jazba-e-Khidmat,’ a joint initiative under which the two will provide free lunches and dinners for all doctors, nurses, paramedics, and staff attending to Coronavirus patients in 20 hospitals across seven cities with Serena Hotel branches. These cities are Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Quetta, Swat, Gilgit and Khaplu. The service will initially be provided for a month, with possibilities of extension as the situation evolves.
Asad Umer then moved on to share progress in terms of supply of equipment for protection of medical workers, diagnosis of Coronavirus, and treatment of confirmed patients. He said, 1,700,000 surgical masks, 75,000 N-95 masks, 73,000 protective gowns, 650,000 gloves, 137,000 surgical caps, and 10,000 face shields have so far been dispatched to hospitals across the country by NDMA.
With reference to diagnostic equipment, Asad Umer said, 14 PCR machines had been procured, and 27 laboratories now had the capability to diagnose coronavirus. Moreover, testing reaction kits that can perform up to 100,000 tests were received in Karachi a day earlier, and are currently being validated. “Of the total kits, 50,000 will be utilized by Sindh and 25,000 will be sent to Balochistan, with more supplies expected within the next couple of days.”
Asad Umer added that from 3,000 tests per day, Pakistan’s target is to acquire the capability to perform 25,000 tests per day by the end of April. “We are aiming at a 300 percent increase in capability through procurement of machines and testing kits,” he stated, adding that a full-time team had been constituted in the National Command and Operations Centre to make this happen in coordination with the provinces and laboratories.
He said a proactive sampling system for diagnosis, tracking and testing of contacts, and collection of samples, among other facets, was being pilot tested in one or two districts of each province, as well as in Islamabad, to determine the spread of the virus in target groups such as industrial workers. This will enable the government to have evidence-based data on the risk involved in progressively opening one sector after the other. “The results of the pilot project will provide a clearer picture of the way forward,” he maintained.
Sharing data on the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s economy, Asad Umer reported a one-third decline (equivalent to Rs1,500 billion spread over a year) in revenue collection ever since the outbreak. However, since March last year, there has been a 9 percent increase in foreign exchange earnings, he shared. The minister said, the next meeting of the National Coordination Committee would be convened on Monday, with the PM in the chair, to unanimously decide about the next steps to be taken after April 14.
Dr. Zafar shared international and national data reflecting the scale of the pandemic. As many as 1.7 million confirmed cases have been reported worldwide, with over 100,000 deaths and 382,000 recoveries.
In Pakistan, 5,036 people acquired the disease, with Punjab reporting 2,425 cases, followed by Sindh 1,318, KP 697, Balochistan 228, Gilgit-Baltistan 216, Islamabad 118, and AJK 34 till the filing of report at 12:59pm.
As many as 762 confirmed patients have fully recovered, 86 have lost their lives, and 17,393 are in quarantines. A total of 57,836 tests have been conducted, he informed.
Of 86 deaths, 31 died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 28 in Sindh, 21 in Punjab, two in Balochistan, 3 in Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad Capital Territory 1. Meanwhile, six more people tested positive, raising the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases to 60 in Swat district on Saturday. According to Deputy Commissioner Saqib Raza Aslam, a total 60 persons had reported positive for the corona test so far, while the results of 30 individuals were declared negative. He said two infected patients, one each from Kanju and Charbagh areas, had recovered from the fatal viral disease. Earlier, he said two others had also defeated the coronavirus and sent home after complete recovery.
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