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.


Locust invasion wreaks havoc on Pakistan’s crops, orchards

Updated 29 May 2020

Locust invasion wreaks havoc on Pakistan’s crops, orchards

  • Farmers say locusts are damaging cotton and vegetable crops sown in April
  • Government intensifying efforts to save crops from further locust invasion, says minister

MULTAN: An invasion of locusts has spread across Pakistan, officials said Friday, causing damage to crops and orchards and posing a threat to food security in an impoverished Islamic nation already struggling to tackle a virus pandemic that has caused more than 1,300 deaths.
Massive swarms of the desert locust, which experts say originates in Africa and is the most destructive of the locust species, began damaging crops in Pakistan last month.
But the situation worsened this week and authorities began dispatching aircraft and spraying machines filled with pesticides mounted on vehicles to eliminate the insects, which are roughly the length of a finger and fly together by the millions.
Farmers could be seen wading through clouds of the insects as some tried to kill them with sticks.
Chaudhry Asghar, an agriculture officer in Multan, said millions of desert locusts had already damaged orchards, crops and vegetables.
“We have intensified efforts to save our crops from any further invasion of locusts,” Syed Fakhar Imam, minister for National Food Security, said Friday. He said the government will buy five more aircraft for spraying crops.
The insects have wreaked havoc on swathes of farmland in eastern Punjab, southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces. They also attacked crops in the northwest bordering Afghanistan.
The locusts have also brought agricultural destruction to neighboring India, where critics pointed the finger at Pakistan as a new breeding ground for the desert locusts. Pakistani officials said no country should blame another for the situation, but all affected countries need to make collective efforts to prevent a possible food crisis in the region.
Farmers say while crops of rabi, a type of grain, were sown in winter and harvested in the spring, locusts are damaging cotton and vegetable crops sown in April.
“I have already lost my cotton crop and vegetables because of these locusts,” Abdul Rehman, a farmer in Baluchistan province, said. He asked what they would eat if the locusts continued unchecked.
The National Disaster Management Authority said resources were being mobilized and operations were underway to curb the locust invasion.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has struggled to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with more than 64,000 cases confirmed and more than 1,300 fatalities.
The country reported 57 virus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, its most in one day since the outbreak began in February. Infections increased in Pakistan, including Islamabad, recently after the government eased lockdown restrictions — ignoring warnings from medical professionals.