PM’s health adviser ordered ease in quarantine restrictions at Pak-Iran border, document reveals

Pakistani soldiers wearing facemasks stand guard at the closed Pakistan-Iran border in Taftan on February 25, 2020. (AFP photo)
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Updated 27 April 2020

PM’s health adviser ordered ease in quarantine restrictions at Pak-Iran border, document reveals

  • By March, 78 percent of all cases in Pakistan had a travel history to Iran
  • Letter says Dr. Zafar Mirza eased quarantine restrictions at Taftan on Feb. 27 ‘for no sound reason’

KARACHI: The Prime Minister’s special assistant on health, Dr. Zafar Mirza, ordered the easing of quarantine restrictions along the Pak-Iran border in February which led to hundreds of cases of the virus entering Pakistan, it has emerged in an official letter that raises serious concerns about mistakes made by the federal government in the fight to contain coronavirus.
The verified document dated March 7 and obtained by Arab News on Sunday, is the official correspondence between a former regional commissioner at Taftan, Ayaz Mandokhel, and the additional chief secretary of the government of Balochistan. In the letter, Mandokhel said that on Feb. 27, Mirza had ordered an ease in quarantine restrictions at the border “for no sound reason.”




The verified document dated March 7 and obtained by Arab News on Sunday, is the official correspondence between a former regional commissioner at Taftan, Ayaz Mandokhel, and the additional chief secretary of the government of Balochistan. 

Over 6,000 people, a majority of the pilgrims, went on to enter the western province of Balochistan once the restrictions were eased. In March, the federal government reported that 78 percent of all coronavirus cases in the country had travel histories to Iran, one of the countries worst affected worldwide by the virus.
The government has since then been criticized for mishandling the Taftan border quarantine, and in a media briefing on March 27, PM Imran said the Balochistan government did not have enough funds to provide adequate facilities for travelers arriving from Iran. 
But the letter, verified by Balochistan’s focal person for COVID-19, Umair Hasni, carries wide-ranging implications for the central government, and outlines Mandokhel’s concerns regarding Dr. Mirza’s directives.
“Only Zaireen and students are quarantined but hundreds of deportees, businessmen, tourists, Rahdari holders and local people are allowed to go for no sound reason,” the letter reads.
“No standard procedures have been either given or followed... We are congregating hundreds of people in Pakistan house and other tent camps. It is virtually detention and not quarantining,” he continues.
The letter goes on to say: “The quarantine period has been reduced from fourteen to seven days for no obvious reasons.”
The document also said that screening and quarantine measures were only being implemented at Taftan while hundreds of kilometers with Afghanistan and Iran remained unguarded.
According to the correspondence, earlier in February, provincial health teams and army officers at Dalbandin and Taftan had issued directions and recommendations which included the closure of the border and quarantining of incoming people for 14 days. These recommendations were overturned by the Prime Minster’s health adviser. 
Dr. Mirza did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 
According to the letter, 252 pilgrims were moved to Quetta contrary to earlier recommendations, and anybody who was not a student or pilgrim was allowed to enter Pakistan after screening but without being quarantined. 
Balochistan’s focal person on coronavirus, Hasni, told Arab News that Dr. Mirza’s directives had made the situation at the Pak-Iran border worse.
“I have raised voice over the federal government’s handling of issue at Taftan,” he said.


Nepalese climbers bag mountaineering’s last great prize: winter ascent of Pakistan’s K2

Updated 38 min 38 sec ago

Nepalese climbers bag mountaineering’s last great prize: winter ascent of Pakistan’s K2

  • One of the ten Nepalese mountaineers performed the feat without using an oxygen cylinder
  • K2 earned the nickname of ‘savage mountain’ since a large number of climbers lost their lives while trying to scale it

ISLAMABAD: A group of Nepalese climbers made history on Saturday by summiting the world’s second tallest mountain, K2, in winter, according to its team leader who made the announcement on Facebook only minutes after making the accomplishment. 

“The Karakorum’s ‘Savage Mountain’ has been summited in the most dangerous season: WINTER,” Chhang Dawa Sherpa exclaimed in his social media post.

His announcement was also confirmed by an official of the Alpine Club of Pakistan which deals with mountaineering expeditions in the country.

At 8,611 meters, K2 was the only peak among the 14 “8000ers” located in the Karakorum and Himalayan mountain ranges that remained unconquered during winter. 

Along the icy glaciers of the Karakoram, mountaineers and locals speak about K2 summits with a hushed reverence, and folklore in the area is rife with mythical stories of the mountain “permitting” climbers to reach its top — considered the ultimate honor granted to a mortal by nature. 

When a climb doesn't go as planned, locals tell each other the mountain refused to be scaled. 

“The Nepalese climbers finally reached the summit of Mt. K2 … this afternoon at 17:00 local time,” Dawa wrote. “This is the first winter ascent of the 2nd highest mountain in the world and the ONLY eight-thousander (8000er) to be climbed in winter. This is a greatest achievement in the history of mountaineering, this is a good example of team work … ‘If a mountain lets you climb it, no one can stop you.’” 

One of the ten Nepalese climbers, Mingma G, also became the first mountaineer to summit the peak in winter without an oxygen cylinder.

K2 earned the nickname of “savage mountain” since a large number of climbers — 86 in all — lost their lives while trying to scale it. 

In 2008, 11 climbers from an international expedition died in what was considered as the single worst accident in the history of mountaineering. 

K2 straddles the Pakistan-China border. While it is about two-and-a-half football fields shorter than Everest (8,848 meters), it is widely considered to be the toughest and most dangerous mountain to climb. 

More than 300 climbers have scaled K2 in spring and summer. Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli were the first to reach its summit in the summer of 1954.