Pakistan suspends Iran flights over coronavirus threat

This undated file photo shows a general view of Islamabad Airport. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistan suspends Iran flights over coronavirus threat

  • Two people, who recently traveled from Iran, tested positive for the virus
  • Officials say the flight operation has been stopped until further notice

KARACHI: The government of Pakistan has decided to suspend flights to and from Iran after the emergence of coronavirus cases in the country, said a senior official of the aviation division on Thursday.

“The Aviation Division has decided to stop all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran with effect from 12am tonight until further notice,” said the department’s spokesperson, Abdul Sattar Khokhar, while talking to Arab News.

Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah urged the federal government to immediately suspend Iran flights after two people, who recently returned from that country, were found suffering from the coronavirus infection.

“The flight operations to Iran is yet to be stopped,” he said while briefing the media about the measures taken by his administration to deal with the situation. “I request the federal minister of aviation to immediately halt flights from Iran.”

Two coronavirus cases were reported in Pakistan on Wednesday, and one of the people was confirmed to be a resident of Karachi in Sindh province.

“One case has been reported in Sindh, whereas the second person tested positive in federal areas,” State Minister for Health Zafar Mirza said during a press conference in Quetta and answered “maybe” when asked if he was referring to Islamabad.

Both the persons traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, Mirza said, adding that they were in stable condition.

The coronavirus patient in Sindh has been identified as a 22-year-old resident of Karachi who is already quarantined.

The man “and other members of his family have been quarantined at a private hospital,” Meeran Yousuf, spokesperson of the Sindh health department, told Arab News, adding that the patient arrived in Karachi on a flight from Mashhad on Feb. 20.

The development followed the establishment of isolation wards in hospitals and closure of education institutes for two days in Sindh.

In Balochistan, which borders Iran, all education institutes have been temporarily closed until March 15 “as a precaution to protect children from the coronavirus,” the province’s education directorate announced in a circular on Wednesday.

The Sindh chief minister said in his press briefing that a separate health center with isolation facilities would soon be established in the province.

Shah said the data acquired from the aviation department confirmed that around 8,000 passengers had traveled from Iran, adding that 1,500 of them had arrived in Karachi and all of them would be contacted for screening.

“A group of 28 people who had traveled along the coronavirus patient has also been identified and will be approached for screening,” Shah said, informing that the person suffering from the virus had been shifted to an isolated place from the Aga Khan Hospital.

Meanwhile, speaking to Arab News, Assistant Commissioner of Taftan Najibullah Qambrani said that a tent-hospital had been set up in the border area. “The border remains closed for the fifth consecutive day and no one is allowed to enter Pakistan,” he said.

Iran has the highest coronavirus toll outside of China. The country’s health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Wednesday that 19 people had died from the illness, with 139 confirmed cases in the country.

The World Health Organization says the virus had infected more than 80,000 people around the world, causing over 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.

Experts are concerned that Iran may be under-reporting coronavirus cases and deaths.

Pakistani religious party’s volunteers disinfect temples and churches

Updated 31 March 2020

Pakistani religious party’s volunteers disinfect temples and churches

  • Jamaat-e-Islami volunteers provide food and other necessities to Muslims and non-Muslims in need alike, party chief says
  • Religious minority leaders say the step will help promote interfaith harmony in the country

LAHORE: Promoting interfaith harmony during coronavirus crisis, Pakistan’s religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), has set out on a disinfection campaign for mosques, churches, and temples alike in the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The initiative taken by the party’s social welfare wing, Al Khidmat Foundation, has been greatly lauded the country’s minority communities.
“Al Khidmat Foundation has been instructed by the party leadership to provide food to the needy in these testing times and participate in the movement of disinfecting worship places belonging to all religions along with other public areas,” JI’s information secretary, Qaisar Sharif, told Arab News on Tuesday.
“In Karachi and Peshawar, Al Khidmat volunteers have helped seven churches, five temples and two [Sikh] gurdwaras,” he added.
Sharif said the party’s top leadership opined that no one was safe since COVID-19 had engulfed the entire world.
“The JI has directed its volunteers to provide cooked food, rations and other items of necessity to those in need. The service is for the people of all faiths, not just Muslims. We believe in one God who is the Master of the universe. Our Prophet was a mercy to the humankind, not just to Muslims alone. As his followers, it is our responsibility to serve all humans without making any discrimination,” Sirajul Haq, the JI chief, told Arab News.
“Serving the mosques, churches, temples and gurdwaras is a practical step toward religious harmony,” he continued. “We are trying to show the world that Islam is not a religion of extremism but teaches its followers that all humans are equal.”
The religious leaders of different faiths welcomed the step, saying it would lead to a more pluralistic society.
“It is a positive development that will pave the way for religious harmony in Pakistan,” Pastor Shahid Meraj, Dean of Lahore Cathedral, told Arab News. “There is always an initiative to begin, and this act will help start dialogue among religions.”
“We are thankful to the JI leadership for this gesture,” he added. “They helped us today and we have assured to help them whenever needed.”
Leaders of the Hindu community also appreciated the gesture, saying it would bring people of different religions closer together.
“At a time when the whole world is suffering due to an unseen virus, this act of disinfecting our temples is a good omen,” Pandat Bhagat Lal Khokhar, custodian of Lahore’s Valmik Mandar, told Arab News. “It will have a far reaching and positive impact on our society since it will bring Hindus and Muslims closer together.”
President of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Sardar Satwant Singh echoed the same sentiment as well.
“This positive gesture will further strengthen the Sikh-Muslim brotherhood,” he noted. “It is important to have interfaith harmony in the country and such steps are extremely fruitful for that purpose.”
Rights activists also appreciated the JI initiative.
“Huge respect for Al-Khidmat, welfare wing of @JIPOfficial, for doing disinfectant spray in Mandir and Church. Lead by example of peaceful coexistence, interfaith harmony and pluralism,” Kapil Dev, a Hindu activist from Sindh, said in a Twitter post.