KARACHI: As novel coronavirus threatens to become a global pandemic, Pakistan confirmed its first two cases of the deadly contagion – medically named COVID-19 – on Wednesday night with the de facto federal health minister reassuring people “there is no need to panic”.
“I can confirm first two cases of coronavirus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols and both of them are stable,” Dr Zafar Mirza, the special assistant to the prime minister on National Health Services, wrote on his official Twitter handle.
220/ I can confirm first two cases of corona virus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable. No need to panic, things are under control. I will hold press conf tomorrow on return from Taftan.— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) February 26, 2020
“The cases have been reported one each in Sindh and a ‘federal area’,” Dr Mirza later told a presser in Quetta where Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal was also present. “Both the patients had travelled to Iran in the last two weeks,” Dr Mirza said but would not share details despite repeatedly asked by inquisitive journalists.
He advised the media to not share details of the patients. He also urged all those people who have recently travelled to or from China, Iran, Japan or any other country affected by the viral outbreak to have themselves medically examined even if they don’t have any symptoms.
Dr Mirza said a number of security and precautionary measures had been put in place over the past one month. He hoped the virus would not turn into an outbreak in Pakistan due to these arrangements. “We are on the right track. With Allah’s blessings, this [virus] will not take the form of an outbreak in Pakistan,” he added.
Pakistan cobbles together action plan against viral outbreak
The prime minister’s aide said instead of creating panic or worrying, people should take precautions. “Things are under control and there is no need to panic,” he added. At the same time, he urged people to visit hospital if they experience any symptoms similar to COVID-19’s and contact the government helpline on 1166.
221/ No need to panic about #Coronavirus but be careful and act responsibly! Remember, 97% cases of Coronavirus fully recover. Please share widely this PUBLUC SERVICE MESSAGE pic.twitter.com/iz76JCZn7b— Zafar Mirza (@zfrmrza) February 26, 2020
Dr Mirza also disclosed that they have suspected coronavirus cases reported in 15 areas of the country. However, he sought to clarify that a suspected case doesn’t mean confirmed coronavirus case.
“Anyone who has travelled to any of the countries affected by the virus and has symptoms similar to coronavirus could be called a suspected case,” he said. However, he added that they had conducted lab tests of more than 100 suspected cases and all of them came out negative.
Dr Mirza’s tweet came minutes after the Sindh Health Department confirmed that a young man in Karachi has been diagnosed with the mysterious contagion.
COVID-19 broke out in the central Chinese province of Hubei in December. The mysterious disease has killed over 2,700 people, mostly in the epicentre of the outbreak. Outside mainland China, the virus has spread to more than 30 countries.
Iran, where 19 people have died because of the disease – the highest number of fatalities outside China – is the worst affected. The young patient in Karachi is also believed to have contracted the virus in the Iranian holy city of Qum.
Y* recently flew in to Karachi along with his family from Iran. He and his family have been placed in quarantine and the Health Department is in the process of examining all the passengers he has travelled with.
"Y* went to Iran in a group of 28 pilgrims. He has been immediately admitted to a private hospital, where he is undergoing various tests," the provincial health minister told The Express Tribune. Medics at the hospital said Y*'s condition is improving.
According to the Regional Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit in Karachi, Y* complained of fever, headache and weakness on Feb 18 while in the Iranian city of Mashhad. He left for Karachi after recovering, but during the flight on Feb 20 he started vomiting.
In Karachi, he complained of cold on Feb 25 after which tests were conducted, the unit said. The health department said that those who had travelled with Y* would be screened along with their families.
The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) also said that a patient brought in from Skardu had been tested positive for coronavirus. Medics revealed the patient had travelled to Iran about a month ago, according to Express News.
Pakistan has already sealed its border with Iran at five points after the neighbouring country reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus last week. At the same time, officials also started quarantining pilgrims returning from Iran.
A 67-strong team of doctors has been deployed at the Taftan border crossing, while a “coronavirus emergency” has been declared in five districts of Balochistan – Chagai, Washuk, Panjgur, Kech and Gwadar – as a pre-emptive measure.
Activities at the Pak-Iran border are suspended as no-one is allowed to cross into Pakistan from Iran. Around 5,000 pilgrims are currently in Iran who, authorities say, would not be allowed to return without completing the incubation period there.
The Balochistan government on Wednesday announced the closure of all government and private schools as well as madrassas and elementary colleges in the province until March 15 as a precautionary measure to protect children from coronavirus.
The Sindh government also closed educational institutions for Thursday and Friday (today and tomorrow). According to Express News, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has summoned a high-level meeting on Thursday (today) to discuss further steps to contain the spread of the virus.
Shadow spreads across Asia, Europe
The new outbreaks of coronavirus in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia have fanned fears of the contagion taking hold in poor nations. Afghanistan announced on Monday its first virus infection involving a patient who had recently been in Iran where millions of Afghans live.
The death toll in Italy – the worst-hit European country – rose to 12, according to the latest figures on Wednesday from the country’s head of civil protection. Some 374 people have been infected with COVID-19, with Lombardy the worst hit, a region where nine people have died.
France has reported the first death of a French citizen from coronavirus, as well as four new cases of the disease. Landlocked Austria, which borders Italy to the south, has also confirmed two cases of the virus. Switzerland, also bordering Austria, confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Tuesday.
Croatia reported two cases of coronavirus – a male who visited Milan, Italy, and his brother. The first case of the virus was registered Wednesday in North Macedonia from a woman who visited Italy last month.
Nine people have been confirmed with the virus in Spain so far. The first coronavirus case in the capital Madrid was confirmed late Tuesday, while the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off northwestern Africa, isolated nearly 1,000 tourists after an Italian man tested positive for the virus.
Two new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Germany, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 18 so far, but no deaths. Greece has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, in the port city of Thessaloniki.
Some 7,132 people have been tested in the UK as of Wednesday, said the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock in a statement, adding 13 people have tested positive. Eight people, who were tested positive have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment.
(With additional reporting by Tufail Ahmed and input from Agencies)