–Three more suspected cases emerge in Layyah, referred to Multan’s Nishtar Hospital
–PIA says people with Umrah or tourist visas will not be able to go to Saudi Arabia
–‘Condition of two patients stable, improving’; family of Karachi man ‘cleared after tests’
ISLAMABAD: A day after two cases emerged in the country amid an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Iran, Pakistan has decided to suspend flights to and from Iran till further notice with effect from midnight.
The decision followed an already-suspended road and rail movement between the two countries in the wake of the epidemic in the southwestern neighbour.
“Aviation Division has decided to cease all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran with effect from midnight between 27 and 28 February 2020 till further notice,” a message from Joint Secretary of Aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.
The government has set up a round-the-clock coronavirus control room at the Aviation Division, confirmed the spokesperson.
Separately, the government barred people wishing to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah or tourism. However, people holding iqama or having permanent Saudi nationalities will be allowed on the flights to Saudi Arabia. The decision was taken in light of the Saudi government’s decision to suspend Umrah and tourism operations in light of the growing number of coronavirus affectees all over the world.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also tweeted about these measures and said that while the national carrier will continue flight operations, as usual, people with Umran or tourist visas will not be able to go to Saudi Arabia as “PIA will fully implement instructions given by the Saudi government”.
— PIA (@Official_PIA) February 27, 2020
Meanwhile, at least three suspected cases, including a couple in the sixties with travel history to Iran, emerged in Layyah that were referred to Multan’s Nishtar Hospital for further diagnosis. The couple suffering from cough and flu was shifted to an isolation ward and their samples were to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, for confirmation.
District Health Authority Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Ameer Abdullah told reporters that Khuda Bux, his wife Pathani Mai and a relative Azhar Abbas were transferred to Nishtar hospital. They had returned to their home located in Paharpur after visiting Iran.
First, they went to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, Kot Sultan, from where they were sent to Nishtar for further screening. Azhar Abbas, who was serving in Frontier Corps, was posted at Taftan border.
SINDH GOVT FORMS TASK FORCE:
Also, the Sindh government has decided to form a task force on novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The decision was taken in an emergency meeting headed by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to chalk out a strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The task force headed by the chief minister will include the provincial chief secretary, health secretary, Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani and other health officials.
The two cases confirmed in Pakistan included a 22-year-old male patient in Karachi who had traveled from Iran, where he acquired COVID-19. The second case was confirmed at PIMS in Islamabad.
Addressing a press conference after the meeting, the Sindh chief minister said that about 1500 people have been identified who have returned from Iran or had come into contact with those coming from Iran and later entered Sindh in the past 15 days.
Shah added that according to their information, of the 1,500 individuals — 28 individuals may have been exposed to the virus in Karachi, and 5,000 individuals all across the country.
He explained that the first step was to check if the 1,500 individuals identified were manifesting symptoms of the virus. “If yes, they will be tested. Not all 1,500 people and everyone they have been in contact with [in the past 15 days] will be tested,” he said.
Later in the day, the PM’s special assistant on health, Dr Zafar Mirza, said that the patients who were tested positive for the virus were “stable” and their condition was “improving”. After these cases emerged in Karachi and Islamabad, the government had decided to screen the family members of the patients along with the people they had come in contact with. Speaking about the tests, the assistant said: “Contacts traced until now and tested are all negative.”
Dr Mirza urged people who have recently travelled to virus-hit countries to call on the helpline–1166. “If you or somebody you know have recently returned from China, Iran or a country where #COVIDー19 is prevalent and if there are symptoms like fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, please report by calling at 1166,” he said.
According to the Sindh government, the family of the Karachi has been cleared of suspicion after their tests were proved negative. On Wednesday, the Sindh health department had announced that a young man had tested positive for the coronavirus in Karachi — the first confirmed case in Pakistan.
Shortly after, Dr Mirza had confirmed the case in Karachi and one more, both coming from Iran.
“I can confirm the first two cases of coronavirus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable,” said Dr Mirza via a tweet.
“No need to panic, things are under control,” he added.
Later, addressing a late-night press conference in Quetta, Mirza said one of the cases was reported in Sindh while the second was confirmed in “federal areas”. He added that both the affected persons had travelled to Iran in the last two weeks. He, however, refused to comment further on the two cases.
In response to a question, he said 15 suspected cases of the virus are currently under investigation, while 100 cases have tested negative so far.
He said instead of creating panic or worrying needlessly, people should “take precautions and show responsibility”. Mirza urged the public to go to hospitals if they start experiencing any of the symptoms and contact the government helpline on 1166.