Pakistan seals borders with Afghanistan, Iran

In this file photo, Pakistani soldiers wearing facemasks stand guard at the closed Pakistan-Iran border in Taftan on February 25, 2020 as fears over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus escalate following an outbreak in neighboring Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistan seals borders with Afghanistan, Iran

  • Only Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi airports will operate international flights
  • Government does not declare national emergency

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Friday evening announced the closure of the country’s borders with Afghanistan and Iran with immediate effect to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The two-week closure follows the National Security Committee’s (NSC) meeting in Islamabad earlier in the day.
“By closing the borders, we are making sure that no infected person enters Pakistan,” said Dr. Zafar Mirza, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on public health.
He added that only three airports of the country — in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi — will remain open for international flights.
“There is nothing more important than safety of people … all these measures are part of a strategy to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
While no national emergency has been declared, all educational institutions have been shut down and mass gatherings, including religious events, weddings and conferences, have been banned, also with immediate effect.
“The government hasn’t imposed any national emergency ... it’s a major thing and we aren’t invoking it at this stage,” Moeed Yusuf, special assistant to the prime minister on national security, told reporters after the NSC meeting.
Courts have been requested to adjourn all proceedings in civil cases for three weeks.
Keeping in view possible food shortages, the Ministry of National Food Security is going to prepare a contingency plan.
Pakistan Day’s military parade on March 23 has also been canceled.
It is for the first time in the country’s history that NSC discussed response to contagious disease. The committee’s meeting was presided over by the prime minister, attended by key ministers and all military service chiefs/
The NSC is a top decision-making body on national security.
Pakistan has recorded 28 coronavirus infection cases since Feb. 26. Two persons are known to have recovered. The virus has spread to over 135 countries and killed more than 5,000 people, most of them in the mainland China.

More than 50 percent virus patients recover in Pakistan but outbreak may still worsen 

Updated 5 min 47 sec ago

More than 50 percent virus patients recover in Pakistan but outbreak may still worsen 

  • More than 125,000 Pakistanis who contracted the virus have recovered 
  • COVID-19 testing drops to about 22,000 tests on Saturday, despite the government’s promise to conduct 50,000 tests a day from July 

ISLAMABAD: More than half of Pakistanis who contracted COVID-19 have recovered and the country’s infection curve is going down, but it remains unclear whether the disease spread in Pakistan is past its peak, health officials told Arab News. 

According to government data from Saturday, the number of recoveries was 125,094 versus 225,283 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

Health officials say a number of factors contributed to the high recovery rate.

“Hospitals have ramped up their facilities and are providing better care. District administrations have helped keep people indoors,” Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) executive director Dr. Minhaj us Siraj told Arab News citing the government’s efforts to enforce smart lockdowns where a surge in infections has been detected, and people’s compliance with social distancing measures.

According to Siraj, nationwide awareness programs and recommendations of the National Command and Operation Center have also paid off as people are now more conscious of the disease.

He declined to comment, however, why the country’s coronavirus screening has dropped to 22,050 tests.

Last month, the government said it would increase the rate to 50,000 tests a day from July. On June 19, Pakistan conducted 31,681 COVID-19 tests — the highest officially recorded.

National Health Services (NHS) Ministry spokesman Sajid Shah told Arab News the government was not reducing the number of daily tests, but less people were willing to get tested.

“The masses consulting the NHS to treat symptoms and our doctors advising patients over the phone have helped a great deal at recoveries as well, but at the same time the number of people willing to test for COVID-19 has dropped,” he said, adding that it is still unclear if the country has already reached the peak of the outbreak and the optimistic recovery rate may well be a temporary phase. 

Dr. Naeem Akhter, infectious diseases consultant and focal person for COVID-19 at PIMS, said she has noticed that “people are not very convinced for testing” because most “know that they can recover themselves” in absence of a cure or vaccine.

“If the patients are not coming for the testing, then the surveillance and record will be affected and you won’t be able to know how many people are basically affected,” she said.