Government denies media reports on first coronavirus case in Pakistan

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr. Zafar Mirza observed precautionary measures taken at Islamabad airport on January 24, 2020. (Photo by health ministry)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Government denies media reports on first coronavirus case in Pakistan

  • Top health official asks journalists to 'meticulously check facts before reporting'
  • Screening procedures for signs of the virus already in place at air, land and sea entry points

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.”

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.

 


Bringing stranded Pakistanis home is government's 'top priority' — Qureshi

Updated 01 April 2020

Bringing stranded Pakistanis home is government's 'top priority' — Qureshi

  • Hundreds were left stuck in transit after Pakistan sealed its borders to prevent virus spread
  • Flight operation for Canada to resume from Friday and UK from April 4, PIA official says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Wednesday that bringing stranded Pakistanis back to their homeland was government's top priority.
He chaired a high-level meeting at the foreign ministry in Islamabad to discuss the situation arising from Coronavirus outbreak when Hundreds of Pakistanis in transit were left stranded at airports across the world after the country sealed its borders to prevent imported virus cases.
“We discussed phase wise repatriation of Pakistanis from different countries of the world and our top most priority are those who are stranded at different airports,” Qureshi said.
Pakistan suspended all incoming international flights on March 22 as part of sweeping measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Qureshi said that a crisis management cell had been established at the ministry of foreign affairs which was in touch with the Pakistani embassies in the world. "We have the exact number of Pakistanis abroad.”
The minister added that set safety protocol will be followed for all the passengers, as was seen last week for the flight coming from Thailand.
“All the 170 passengers of special flight from Thailand were tested and all of them were found negative. We have to ensure provision of quarantine and other medical facilities for the coronavirus positive people at airports,” he said.
The meeting was also attended by the Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Special Assistant for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari, Special Assistant for National Security Dr Moeed Yousuf, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood, Secretary of Aviation Division Hasan Nasir Jami, senior officials of foreign ministry and military officials.
The spokesperson of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Abdullah Hafeez, said the national carrier had received government's nod to start limited flights for repatriation of Pakistanis stuck abroad.
“The government has allowed PIA to resume partial flight operations,” Hafeez told Arab News on Wednesday.
In the first phase, flights will operate to Canada and United Kingdom from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, he said.
“A limited number of passengers will be brought back in the first phase so that they can be tested for COVID-19 according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) capability,” Hafeez said. 
Two chartered flights carrying 400 passengers, including the Canadian High Commission staff, will set off for Toronto from Islamabad International Airport on Thursday, he informed. 
“The regular flight operation for Toronto will resume on April 3 while for United Kingdom, it will start from April 4,” he said.
The spokesperson added that on the way back, all flights will land only at Islamabad airport where passengers will be kept in quarantine for six hours in different hotels until the results of their coronavirus tests arrive. 
“The passengers with negative reports will be allowed to leave for their homes with NIH guidelines and COVID-19 positive passengers will be taken to quarantine centers for further treatment,” Hthe official said.
He added that passengers would be able to book the tickets from PIA website and require to wear mask without which they would not be allowed to board the plane. 
"PIA staff has been given special training to ensure their safety and all aircrafts would be disinfected after each travel,” the spokesman said.