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Pakistan records two deaths from coronavirus as confirmed cases rise to 301

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday reported its first two casualties due to the deadly coronavirus that has infected 301 people across the country. “Sad to report one patient who passed away in Mardan,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra tweeted late Wednesday night.

Within two hours after the tweet, Jhagra again announced that a second coronavirus death was also reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The minister tweeted that the patient, a 36-year old person from Hangu district, died in a hospital in Peshawar.

The number of cases in the worst-hit Sindh province reached to 208 on Wednesday after 19 people in Karachi tested positive, said Meeran Yousuf, the media coordinator of the health and population welfare minister.

She said that the province recorded total 36 new cases on Wednesday. Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said the number of coronavirus cases in his province rose to 33 on Wednesday. “I can confirm that there are 33 confirmed #COVID19 patients in Punjab. 20 quarantined in Dera Ghazi Khan tested positive & have been shifted to hospital. 6 patients in Lahore, 5 in Multan and 2 in Gujrat are also under treatment,” he tweeted.

Majority of Pakistan’s COVID-19 cases are linked to those who went on pilgrimage to Iran, one of the countries hardest-hit by the disease, while less than half a dozen are locally transmitted. Pakistan shares a 960-kilometre border with Iran, with the main crossing point at Taftan in Balochistan province.

The Taftan border has been closed since March 16, but thousands of Pakistan Shia pilgrims who were visiting religious sites in Iran have been allowed to return subject to two weeks’ quarantine. More 10 cases were reported in Gilgit-Baltistan and its Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman said that the total number of infection in the region was 15.

Also, the first coronavirus case was reported from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where a 45-year old person who had recently come back from Iran was found positive. Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar also announced that the restaurants, hotels and shopping malls would be shut down by 10 pm every day to reduce exposure.

He also said that number of staff at offices will be reduced. Already 19 cases were reported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 16 from Balochistan and 2 from Islamabad. Authorities in Pakistan have screened over 1,015,900 travellers since the virus was first detected in the country. At least 20,088 travellers have been screened in the last 24 hours.

Sindh government has come out criticising Centre for lack of foresight in quarantine arrangements in Taftan where over 9,000 pilgrims returning from Iran had been quarantined by the Balochistan government in a ‘tent city’.

After completing the 14-day incubation period, the pilgrims were allowed to travel back to their cities. However, Sindh and K-P sent the pilgrims to isolation facilities in Sukkur and Dera Ismail Khan and tested them before allowing further travel.

In its March 13 National Security Committee meeting, Centre formed a Novel Coronavirus Core Committee with daily meetings between federal and provincial authorities. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government tasked National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to coordinate with provincial governments and lead the fight against novel coronavirus.

The federal government also decided to ban public gatherings, close all educational institutions until April 5 and cancel Pakistan Day parade on March 23. It also sealed borders and limited international flights operations to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

However, the NSC decision on international travel was taken back on Tuesday when the government lifted restrictions on all airports except Gwadar and Turbat. In Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government edges towards lockdown after it closed all restaurants, malls, shopping centres and imposed Section 144.

Only grocery stores and pharmacies have been allowed to operate. Balochistan government banned public gatherings, suspended biometric attendance, limited activities and closed educational institutions. K-P also banned public gatherings, closed educational institutions and directed police to ensure people were not arranging private events.

Meanwhile, junior doctors and nurses have announced a strike in public sector hospitals in Punjab province protesting shortage of kits and non-provision of other precautionary gear for medics.

Nurses at the Sheikh Zayed Nursing College (SZNC) RahimYar Khan on Wednesday refused to perform duties during the coronavirus emergency and held a protest against the administration for forcing them to perform duty in the hospital without taking any precautionary measures to save them from the virus.

Grand Health Alliance (GHA) Chairman Salman Haseeb said the ailing people visit hospitals in life-threatening conditions only. “Doctors will attend to only serious patients and strongly oppose treating others at outpatient departments of state-run hospitals. The health authorities only provided 1,200 kits to hospitals across Punjab (a province of 110million) for frontline employees attending to suspected and confirmed patients of coronavirus,” he said.

The representative of the junior doctors said the government needs to hire services of doctors from the Pakistan Army for the purpose. “We will shut also down services in emergency wards if (corona) kits are not provided to them,” Dr Haseeb said.

Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid has declared young doctors’ strike “immature and uncalled for”. She said that the government will ensure provision of kits and other protective gear to the doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients and suspected patients.

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