Thursday September 23, 2021

Curious case of 252 Zaireen who left Taftan without completing quarantine period

April 13, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The data of Health Department of Balochistan and Federal Ministry of Health reveals that a group of 252 people, coming from Iran after performing Ziaraat, popularly called the “Zaireen” were allowed to leave the Taftan Corona Quarantine centre without completing the mandatory fourteen day quarantine.

It is not clear who ordered the release of these 252 people without completing the mandatory quarantine period and why the provinces were not informed before release of these people from Taftan on 29 the February.

The data of Ziareen returning from Iran via Taftan, a border town in Balochistan, available with the News, shows that a quarantine center was set up on the orders of Federal Ministry of Health soon after reports of corona epidemic in Iran become public.

As per the official details of convoys dispatched to provinces from Taftan, a total of 252 returnees from Iran including 20 from Balochistan, 168 from Punjab, 11 from Sindh, 33 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 20 from Gilgit were released without completing the 14-day mandatory quarantine period.

After the first batch of 252 pilgrims who were released without completing quarantine, a convoy of 1,822 Zaireen was dispatched to provinces including 413 to Balochistan, 761 to Punjab, 294 to Sindh, 26 to KPK, and 328 to Gilgit-Baltistan on March 13, 2020.

On March 17, the third convoy of 757 Zaireen was dispatch to Sindh only. Similarly, another batch of 1,660 pilgrims was sent to provinces including 1,230 to Punjab, 232 to KPK and 198 to Gilgit-Baltistan on March 18.

As per the official record, a convoy of 290 Zaireen including 156 from Punjab, 03 from Sindh and 131 from KPK was dispatched to provinces on March 22. Whereas a batch 113 pilgrims was dispatch to Balochistan on March 25.

As many as 274 Zaireen including 147 from Balochistan, 63 from Punjab, 59 from Sindh and 5 from KPK were sent to provinces on March 28 whereas a batch of 63 pilgrims was sent to Balochistan on March 30.

The official record shows a total of 5,231 returnees from Iran have been handed over to the provinces except from the first batch of 252 Zaireen.

The Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, personally visited Taftan and Quetta on 26th and 27th February, 2020, and ordered for a quarantine, to be established at Taftan, for monitoring and screening of Pakistani citizens returning from Iran. As per rules of business and entry 19 of the Federal Legislative list quarantine in case of infectious disease is federal governments responsibly. The designated department of federal government the “Central Health Establishment-CHE”, established its monitoring at Taftan since monitoring of infectious diseases at all “Points of Entry” in to Pakistan is duty of this department. Dr Mirza while holding a press briefing on returning from Taftan on 27th February, said all returning Zaireen will be quarantined at Taftan for fourteen days, before being allowed to go to their province of residence.

However, documents available with the News, reveal that 252 Zaireen who had returned from Iran from 22 February (When Health alert was created) to 27th February, were allowed to leave the Taftan quarantine without completing mandatory 14 days stay.

According to the SOP developed by Ministry of Health, the Zaireen were to be handed over to the respective provinces and GB administration after staying in the Taftan quarantine for fourteen days.

In case of corona pandemic, this mandatory stay for fourteen days in the quarantine is of critical importance, and key measure against local transmission or spread.

In Taftan quarantine, after 29th February, local Frontier Corps and Army units moved in to assist the civilian administration and no returnee was allowed to leave without completing mandatory fourteen days. Once military moved in the Zaireen after completing fourteen days were dispatched to respective provinces of KPK, Punjab, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan in conveys under security forces supervision and handed over to authorities of respective provinces. The lists of Zaireen dispatched were regularly shared with provincial and GB authorities by Home Department Balochistan in advance and Federal Ministry of Health was also kept informed.

However, in case of the first batch of 252, who were allowed to leave Taftan quarantine in violation of the SOP, no advance intimation was given to the respective provinces. This happened before army had moved in to assist civil administration.

The data shows that approx. 6000 Zaireen were hosted in the Taftan quarantine. Since Federal CHE department could not handle such huge numbers, Balochistan government had to assist the Federal authorities in managing this quarantine. Out of these approx. 900 belonged to Balochistan, 2300 to Punjab, 1100 to Sindh, 400 to KPK and 500 belonged to Gilgit-Baltistan.

The conditions and standard of quarantine at Taftan became a big controversy, after video clips showing Zaireen living in sub-human conditions become viral.

The SAPM on health accepted the poor management of quarantine when he said, “I admit it wasn’t an ideal place to keep people, but there weren’t any choices available,” while speaking to media.

Even the prime minister who is also Minister for Health had to explain that since Taftan is a far-off place hence arrangements were not up to mark. The 1,100 Zaireen handed over to Sindh became a national controversy, when large number of them tested positive. So far approx. 270 people out of 1100 tested positive in Sukkur quarantine.

Considering the fact the Taftan quarantine established by the federal government was not up to the mark, provincial authorities decided to establish their own quarantines and kept these Zaireen for another fourteen days, in Sukkur, DG Khan, Faisalabad, Bhawalpur, DIK Khan and Gilgit.

It is pertinent to mention here that Sindh government reacted very vocally on the quality of quarantine in Taftan; Sindh maintained that Taftan quarantine rather than helping and monitoring the corona suspects, exposed them to further risk of infection and resulted in further transmission.

“It was not quarantine, it was a joke, its trickle-down effect is coming down on the entire country. People were not kept there in the right manner,” Murtaza Wahaba, a spokesman for the Sindh provincial government, told a local television channel, adding this had spread the virus to the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

25% of 2300 Zaireen belonging to Punjab also tested positive for coronavirus, out of 500 returnees belong to GB, 150 tested positive for COVID-2019. A review of data shows, about 25% of Zaireen kept at Taftan came out positive, once provinces decided to repeat a proper quarantine and did universal testing for COVID-2019 of all these returnees. Going by the testing done by provinces, it can be safely extrapolated that 60 out of these 252 could be corona positive, commented a health expert on condition of anonymity.