ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr. Zafar Mirza on Saturday denied news reports that claimed a Chinese national in Multan was diagnosed with coronavirus and undergoing treatment at a health care facility.
In a Twitter post, Mirza requested the media to “meticulously check facts before reporting,” instead of adding to the “nation’s anxiety.”
173/ A part of media is INCORRECTLY reporting about diagnosis of a first case of novel corona virus in Pakistan. We expect responsible reporting by media. Please do not add to nation’s anxiety about nCoronavirus and should meticulously check facts before reporting. Thank you !!
— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) January 25, 2020
The PM’s adviser issued the statement in response to media reports that quoted unnamed sources at Nishtar Hospital Multan, saying that a Chinese man had shown possible symptoms of coronavirus and was treated by doctors.
Previously, Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination issued an order for the highest level of vigilance and necessary preventive measures amid the deadly Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in China.
Health officials in Islamabad confirmed to Arab News that while the number of coronavirus cases in central China had surged to over 500 and at least two dozen people had died, no infections had been reported in Pakistan.
According to the top priority notice, health administrators have been ordered to take precautions against the “SARS-like” coronavirus by screening passengers at the country’s four major airports – in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar – and prevent the spread of the disease by monitoring seaports and the Pakistan-China border, National Institute of Health executive director Maj. Gen. Dr. Aamer Ikram told Arab News on Friday.
The respiratory virus epidemic, which reportedly has already reached Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Far East and North America, has striking similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed hundreds in China a couple of years ago.
“The major threat we see (of the virus entering Pakistan) is from the airports because around 40 flights come from China and surrounding region,” Ikram said, adding that “China has taken an aggressive stand on the matter by restricting flights, which is a good move because this reduces the chance of spreading the virus.”
The number of travelers from and to China has increased since the inception of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which comprises multi-billion dollar infrastructure development projects.
As thousands of Chinese workers have arrived in Pakistan under the CPEC, there is no indication that extra measures had been taken to screen their health condition. According to Dr. Ikram, however, China has been sharing health-related information with Pakistan.
Since there is no known cure for the coronavirus, NIH remains focused on prevention. For the past six weeks, Ikram said, the institute has been training staff at entry points, from the Gwadar Port in southern Balochistan province to the border crossing in Torkham, in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Personnel at checkpoints and airports have been equipped with health surveillance and thermal scanning tools, he said.
In view of the outbreak, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) introduced new screening measures to prevent the virus from entering the country. All incoming passengers from China have to go through health counters for thermal body scanning and are checked for symptoms of the deadly virus by a doctor and two paramedics. Quarantine rooms have been set up in accordance with international standards, CAA said in a statement on Friday.
Passengers embarking on Pakistan International Airlines flights from Beijing are also being screened before departure to Pakistan.
The Foreign Office is in touch with Pakistani missions in China to oversee nationals who may be affected, a spokesperson said during a weekly press briefing.