Sindh 'very open' in reporting Covid-19 cases — provincial health minister

A passenger wearing a facemask as a prevention measure against the coronavirus sits in a bus in Karachi on March 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Sindh 'very open' in reporting Covid-19 cases — provincial health minister

  • 15 of 20 cases of the infectious virus in Pakistan have been confirmed in the southern Sindh province
  • Other provinces likely under-reporting, Sindh officials say

KARACHI: Responding to the high number of reported Covid-19 cases in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, in contrast to the rest of the country, the provincial health minister said that Sindh administration was “very open” in giving the public a clear picture of the number of infected patients.
The statement comes at a time when the total number of confirmed cases in Pakistan climbed to 20 — 15 of them in Sindh.
“We are being very open about our cases as we want our people to know what is going on so they can take precautions themselves too,” Azra Fazal Pechuho, the Sindh health minister, told Arab News. “Also, Karachi is a metropolitan city and it has a huge population so we were prepared for this.”
Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson for the government of Sindh, said that the provincial government was doing its job “effectively.”
“A total of 2300 people have entered Sindh from Iran and all those have been tested,” Wahab told Arab News. “Out of those, 188 were tested as suspected Coronavirus cases of which 15 turned positive,” he added.
Wahab said that all the Coronavirus cases were people who traveled to Sindh from overseas and not a single case of locally transmitted infection was reported thus far.
“It was the responsibility of the federal government to check all entry points to the country,” he further said.
Earlier this month, Sindh extended the closure of all educational institutions till March 13 after the first two coronavirus cases emerged in Karachi, the capital of Sindh and the country’s largest city and financial hub. The city has a population of 15 million according to the 2017 census.
The emergence of coronavirus cases has raised concerns about the dire state of health care in Pakistan, a nation of 208 million where almost a third of the population lives on less than $3.20 a day and where many people cannot afford expensive medical tests or drugs.
Rural Sindh, long bridled by harsh poverty and illiteracy, is particularly vulnerable.
Abdul Sattar Khokhar, joint secretary at the aviation ministry, said that all airports in the country had set up similar screening protocols.
“There were weekly eight flights from Iran before the flight suspension [from Pakistan to Iran last month], with four of them flying to Lahore, one to Islamabad and only three to Karachi,” Khokhar told Arab News.
Iran has reported 7,161 total cases of coronavirus since last month, with the death toll reaching 237.
A spokesperson for the federal health ministry said equally effective screening was carried out at all 19 entry points to the country, including major airports and it was a coincidence that a majority of coronavirus patients were from Karachi.
“We have similar screening systems for all points,” Sajid Shah told Arab News.
Health experts said from a purely medical point of view, there was no reason that Karachi was more vulnerable than other parts of Pakistan.
“Karachi, due to pollution, may be best suited for allergy and non-infectious diseases but not coronavirus,” said Dr. Saeed Khan, head of molecular pathology at Dow University of Health Sciences.
“Other provinces may not be reporting correctly, or they may not have a proper screening system like Sindh has,” Khan said. “Secondly, Sindh has a better reporting system and the people identified from air and road travel history are approached by the authorities for screening.”
Data from Pakistan-Iran border at Taftan, Balochistan, suggests that around 48% of the total Pakistani pilgrims — nearly 1,717 people out of 3,762 — quarantined at the border belong to Punjab province which has not reported any Coronavirus case as yet. 
“My assessment is that the virus will spread to other provinces too,” Khan said.


Pakistan reopens borders for trade with Iran 

Updated 05 July 2020

Pakistan reopens borders for trade with Iran 

  • Had closed all five terminals in Feb. to limit COVID-19 infections from Tehran
  • Follows interior ministry’s directive two days ago

 KARACHI: Starting Sunday, Pakistan will resume trade at four of its border points with Iran, weeks after opening its main Taftan crossing on June 17, the Foreign Office spokesperson told Arab News on Sunday.
“All five points are open from today. Taftan is the main border for travel and trade,” Aisha Farooqui said.
The border opening follows a directive issued by the interior ministry on Friday instructing officials to reopen the crossings based on a decision taken during a National Command Operation Center (NCOC) meeting a day earlier. 
The border points will be open only for the purpose of trade and the ban on the cross-border movement of people will remain in place until further notice.
“Gabd, Mand, Katagar, and Chedgi borders will remain open seven days a week, from morning till evening, as per mutually-agreed timings between both countries with effect from 5. July, 2020, only for trade... while ensuring all COVID-19-related SOPS and protocols (are followed),” the notification said about the border points which were temporarily opened for cargo on April 21.
Pakistan closed its borders with Iran on February 24, after the neighboring country reported surging rates of the infection.
Four days later, it reopened Taftan crossing to allow 300 stranded nationals, mostly traders, to re-enter Balochistan province.