Pakistan put on high alert over outbreak of killer coronavirus in China

Arriving passengers wearing masks disembark at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on January 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Pakistan put on high alert over outbreak of killer coronavirus in China

  • Passengers entering Pakistan through its four major airports are to be screened for the virus and monitoring will take place at seaports and on the Pakistan-China border
  • The number of travelers to and from China has increased since the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

ISLAMABAD: Health authorities have placed Pakistan on full alert in a bid to prevent the killer Chinese coronavirus spreading to the country.
Although no cases of the deadly virus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, had yet been reported in Pakistan, officials were taking no chances and ordered the screening of travelers at air, land and sea entry points.
Globally, there are more than 500 confirmed cases of the infection, which has so far killed at least two dozen people and has begun spreading abroad.
The Pakistani Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has issued an order for the highest level of vigilance and necessary preventive measures amid the outbreak.
Passengers entering Pakistan through its four major airports in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar are to be screened for the virus and monitoring will take place at seaports and on the Pakistan-China border, National Institute of Health (NIH) executive director, Maj. Gen. Dr. Aamer Ikram, told Arab News on Friday.
The contagious virus, which has reportedly already reached southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Far East and North America, has striking similarities to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which killed hundreds of people in China during an outbreak in 2002 and 2003.
Ikram said: “The major threat we see (of the virus entering Pakistan) is from the airports because around 40 flights come from China and the surrounding region. 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 to and from China has increased since the 2013 launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which comprises multi-billion-dollar infrastructure development projects.
Thousands of Chinese workers have arrived in Pakistan under the CPEC initiative, and although there has been no indication that extra health-screening measures had been taken, Ikram pointed out that China had been sharing health-related information with Pakistan.
With no known cure for the coronavirus, the NIH has focused all its efforts on prevention. For the past six weeks, Ikram said, the institute had been training staff at entry points, from 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 equipment, he added.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has introduced new screening measures for all incoming passengers from China, who are required to undergo thermal body scans and checks by a doctor and two paramedics for symptoms of the virus.
Quarantine rooms have also been set up at the airports in accordance with international standards, the CAA said in a statement on Friday.
Passengers embarking on Pakistan International Airlines flights from Beijing are also being screened before departure to Pakistan.


Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

Updated 27 February 2020

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

  • Uneasy calm prevailing in northeast Delhi
  • Modi government blames opposition for violence

NEW DELHI: At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.
The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.
“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”
At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.
“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.
New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.
As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.
Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.
“The investigation is on,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.
For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and Internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.
Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.