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Pakistan has over 12,000 suspected cases, says health official as positive COVID-19 infections reach 1,495

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has over 12,000 suspected COVID-19 cases, a top health official said on Saturday as the confirmed infections reached 1,495 with the Punjab province emerging as the new epicenter of the deadly disease in the country.

Advisor on health to the government Zafar Mirza was addressing a daily briefing to inform the magnitude of infection and measures taken to combat coronavirus pandemic.

“There are currently 12,218 suspected COVID-19 patients in the country,” he said.

Most of the infected people had returned from Iran, where the confirmed cases are over 30,000 with more than 2,300 deaths.

The confirmed coronavirus cases include 557 in Punjab, 469 in Sindh, 188 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 133 in Balochistan, 107 in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), 39 in Islamabad and 2 in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the Ministry of Health said.

So far 12 people have died of the disease, 25 recovered and 7 were in critical condition. Punjab is emerging as the new epicenter of the deadly viral infection in the country.

Of the 490 cases in the province, the highest number of 207 were reported from Dera Ghazi Khan district.

Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that a 22-year-old COVID-19 patient died in Faisalabad, taking the total number of deaths due to the disease in the province to five.

In Islamabad, at least 30 doctors of the Polyclinic Hospital were quarantined after one of them was tested positive. Mirza also said that everyone having minor symptoms of virus were needed to undergo the coronavirus test.

“PCR (Polymerase Chain Traction) test is considered the most authentic in the world and there are 14 Labs in the country authorized to carry out this test,” he said.

Mirza said that the ratio of death in Pakistan was 0.78 per cent which was far below than many other countries.

Moeed Yusuf, advisor on security, said that the country’s air traffic would remain suspended until April 4.

“We have also suspended the outgoing flight from tomorrow until April 4,” he said.

He said with the arrival of a flight tonight bringing passengers from Bangkok, the process of repatriation of all stranded Pakistanis would be complete.

Yusuf said that air traffic will be gradually reopened after April 4 after putting in place on the ground the necessary infrastructure to screen and check every incoming passenger.

He also said that the eastern (with India) and western borders (with Iran and Afghanistan) will remain closed for two more weeks.

Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt. Gen. Muhammad Afzal said that the number of testing laboratories would be increased gradually to 50 in the coming weeks.

He said that more testing kits and protective gear was being imported from China and the deficiency of ventilators would also be met soon.

Police sealed the headquarters of the Tableeghi Jamaat in Hyderabad city of Sindh after one of its members was tested positive.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Hyderabad, Adeel Chandio confirmed that the entire mosque had been placed under quarantine and that no one is allowed to come out.

Mirza also said that a team of eight Chinese doctors will arrive in Pakistan to review the steps taken by the government to fight the coronavirus outbreak and they will share their experience with local doctors.

“The government will fully benefit from the experience of Chinese doctors,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Faisal Javed Khan, who is very close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, denied news reports surrounding the premier’s health.

“News regarding PM Imran Khan tested positive for #Covid19 is NOT True. Please refrain from spreading Fake News,” he tweeted.

As government urged clerics to stop congregation in mosques, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman asked people to follow guidelines of medical experts.

“When doctors recommend that people should take maximum precautionary measures and not go near affected people, then people are bound to abide by these guidelines and follow instructions of the district administration in this regard,” he told media.

Police on Saturday arrested four clerics and booked 15 others in Punjab and Sindh provinces for violating lockdown rules and holding Friday congregations despite a fatwa issued by a top global Islamic body to suspend them to contain the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

Also, the interior ministry announced an easy procedure for the already registered international non-governmental organizations if they wanted to help the government in the fight against the deadly virus.

They will get permission by following the guidelines.

Earlier, Pakistan had made a tough law for the international non-governmental organizations to operate in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund said it would consider Islamabad’s request for financial assistance to control the adverse impact of the coronavirus on its economy.

“Our team is working expeditiously to respond to this request so that a proposal can be considered by the IMF’s executive board as soon as possible,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in a statement.

According to officials, cash-strapped Pakistan is looking to get new loans from the international agencies to support its economy hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic.