- Deaths in Iran show lack of readiness
The recent deaths in Iran from the coronavirus has caused panic in neighbouring Balochistan, giving rise to the fear that the coronavirus may spread to Pakistan at last. The dread disease threatens Pakistan in a number of ways. Apart from the air and sea routes, there is also the land route through the Khunjerab Pass. Then there are surrounding countries. Iran has been the first. There is use of the land route for travel to and from both Afghanistan and India. Then there are travellers returning from China, both Chinese workers returning from the Lunar New Year holidays, as well as students who are somehow finding their way home. Though Pakistan has refused to evacuate them, and though the Chinese authorities have assured the Pakistani that they will take the best possible care of them they can, students are still braving restrictions to get home. China is putting them in quarantine, along with other stranded Pakistanis, before letting them travel.
Though the coronavirus epidemic is now several weeks old, there has been a curious nonchalance about the whole matter, which is shown by the reaction of the Balochistan Health Department to the crisis in Iran, which is making panicky attempts to deploy its resources at the Taftan crossing. There is need of a proactive spirit in all of this, not a reactive. One danger that the local authorities are not taking account of are asymptomatic cases, in which a person may carry the virus, but not show any signs of the disease. At present, travellers through the Chinese or Iranian borders are checked (mainly by thermal scanners) for symptoms, and then allowed to leave the travel facility. Quarantine is the only possible solution, though the 100-bed tent hospital to be set up at Taftan seems woefully inadequate. The federal government seems to be engaged in firefighting only, rather than actively planning. Only if this changes will the crisis be met.