Coronavirus: Army seals Islamabad’s neighborhood after 16 test positive

Security personnel wearing facemasks patrol in Bhara Kahu area during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on March 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

Coronavirus: Army seals Islamabad’s neighborhood after 16 test positive

  • At least 15 suspected cases are quarantined at their homes in Bhara Kahu and their test reports are awaited, says the deputy commissioner
  • Anyone violating the restrictions could face 6-month imprisonment or Rs 100,000 fine

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army on Wednesday sealed Bhara Kahu, a densely populated locality on the outskirts of the federal capital, by closing all entry and exit points after a group of people tested positive for coronavirus in the area.
“The area has been completely locked down for all kind of movement … our teams are surveying the locality for more suspected cases,” Hamza Shafqaat, Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner, told Arab News.
He said that a total of 16 people had tested positive for coronavirus from the area while another 15 were quarantined at their homes on the suspicion of contracting the virus. “We are expecting their test reports by evening today [Wednesday],” he said.
The deputy commissioner said the army troops had taken charge of the area along with Rangers and police to ensure the safety and security of the public.
Pakistan has 1,000 diagnosed patients of coronavirus as of Wednesday, and it has recorded eight fatalities due to the viral infection since February 26, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.
The country is struggling to contain the spread of the virus through different initiatives, including testing suspected cases, establishing large quarantine centers and restricting movement of people through partial lockdowns.
The capital administration on Monday placed Islamabad’s union council of Kot Hathial under quarantine after six members of Tablighi Jamaat residing in the area tested positive for coronavirus. After a man from Kyrgyzstan who was part of the preaching team tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, samples were sent for testing of other members of the delegation as well.
Shortly after that, 16 people of Bhara Kahu neighborhood tested positive on Wednesday, compelling the army troops to move in and seal the whole area including grocery shops and pharmacies.
“This area is being sealed on the government’s directives as coronavirus has spread in the locality,” security forces announced through a megaphone while requesting people to stay at their homes.
According to the district administration, at least six check posts have been set up at the entry and exit points of the locality with special teams from the National Institute of Health (NIH) screening hundreds of people to prevent further spread of the virus.
The administration has advised the people to self-quarantine at homes as a precautionary measure along with warnings against violating the restrictions.
“A penalty of 6-month imprisonment or 100,000 rupees fine will be imposed if anyone violates the restriction orders,” Inspector Naeem Iqbal, a police spokesman, told Arab News.

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

Updated 30 March 2020

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

  • Assistance to reach 3 million workers — less than a half of the affected, according workers’ association
  • The support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion scheme to minimize the impacts of the pandemic

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday approved Rs17,500 ($106) monthly cash assistance for around 3 million daily wage workers who lost their jobs amid cutbacks and shutdowns over the coronavirus crisis. The amount may be insufficient for them to survive.

“Something is better than nothing in this critical time, but this amount (17,500 rupees) isn’t enough even for a small family of five members to get by, ” Zahoor Awan, secretary general of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation (PWF), told Arab News.

“A small family needs at least 50,000 rupees per month to fulfill all its expenses including house rent, food and utilities,” he said.

The Rs200 billion financial support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion fiscal stimulus scheme to minimize the adverse impacts of the disease outbreak on the country’s fragile economy.

“It was estimated that around 3 million workers will fall in this category and they will have to be paid a minimum wage of Rs17,500 ($106) per month,” the government’s Economic Coordination Committee said in a statement on Monday.
The government will disburse the money to workers through provincial labor departments.

“This is a substantial and major commitment from the government at this difficult time,” Khurram Husain, business analyst and editor at Dawn daily, told Arab News, adding that the labor departments will have to generate “authentic data” on the workers for the funds to be fairly distributed.

However, the very data on which ECC based its relief may be unreflective of the reality. 

While the ECC estimates that 3 million daily wage workers have been affected by the shutdown of commercial activity across the country, according to PWF’s Awan the number is at least 7 million.

He said the government’s package covers only the formal industrial sector. “What about those thousands working in small hotels, shops, self-employed, and others who aren’t registered with labor departments?” he said, adding that it is necessary for the government to broaden its definition of daily wage earners.

Ghulam Mustafa, a daily wager at a textile mill in Chakwal, said that prior to the business shutdown his monthly income was Rs26,000.

“It’s impossible to meet all the expenses with Rs17,500,” he told Arab News. “The government should waive off our utility bills along with this allowance.”