KARACHI: In the wake of two coronavirus cases emerging in Karachi this week, all educational institutions in Sindh are to be closed until March 13, the Sindh government has announced.
Presiding over a coronavirus taskforce meeting at the CM House on Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah made the decision about the closure of the province's schools, colleges and universities in consultation with the other members of the taskforce, especially the doctors. All coaching and tuition centres are also to be closed.
According to Shah, this closure would enable the completion of the quarantine period for suspected coronavirus patients.
The Sindh universities and boards department also issued a notification to public and private sector universities across the province, instructing them to remain closed until March 13. The on-going examinations at Jinnah Sindh Medical University and other institutions were postponed as well, with a new schedule to be announced later.
On Wednesday, the provincial government had announced that educational institutions would remain closed on Thursday and Friday.
Sindh health department spokesperson Meeran Yousuf, meanwhile, said that the decision was taken as a precautionary measure, emphasising that there were no new cases of coronavirus in Sindh at this point. Urging people not to panic, she added that the health department had tested samples from eight people for coronavirus on Sunday, all of which were negative for the contagious disease.
The taskforce meeting was also told that six suspected patients in Khairpur, Jacobabad, Tando Jam and Karachi's South district had been quarantined and their samples sent for testing.
Moreover, the CM was informed that 738 passengers from Iran had arrived at the Karachi airport since January 15, while details from Taftan revealed that 13,098 travellers had entered the country at the border crossing.
Shah directed all relevant agencies and the health department to remain in close coordination with border officials to continue sharing data about the travellers, so that they could be tracked and precautions could be taken.
He also told the health department to share details about the travellers with the relevant deputy commissioners, so that they could monitor them and their families as well. For the missing addresses of some of the travellers, he asked the city commissioner to reach out to the National Database and Registration Authority for further action.
Furthermore, Shah was told, airport authorities in Karachi had begun enforcing effective screening measures so that no active coronavirus patient could enter the city undetected. At this, the CM directed the Karachi commissioner to carry out random visits to the airport to monitor the arrangements in place.
Addressing the people of the province, Shah maintained that there was no need to worry. "The measures we are taking, such as the closing of educational institutions, tracking passengers and coordinating with their families, are purely for the safety of our people," he said, urging everyone to cooperate with the authorities in order to keep the country safe from the further spread of the virus.
He added that whatever cases had been diagnosed were being contained.
Patient's family cleared
The family members of the city' second coronavirus patient, M*, have also tested negative for the infection, while M is under treatment at an isolation ward, the health department confirmed on Sunday.
A statement issued by the department said that M's family had been cleared of the infection and discharged from the hospital. However, it added, they have been directed to stay at home and contact the health department in case any of them showed symptoms of coronavirus.
Refuting 'hoax' rumours
Separately, the Sindh government refuted a claim that Karachi's first reported coronavirus case was a 'hoax,' as reported in a media outlet on Sunday. According to the report, the University of Karachi's vice-chancellor had confirmed that the patient, Y*, had tested negative for the disease. It also stated that Y and his family had been discharged from the hospital.
However, the chief minister tweeted, "The patient with coronavirus is presently in isolation and under treatment. His family was tested and tests were negative. They have hence been cleared."
Shah requested the media to verify and reconfirm claims before reporting on the matter, given the serious implications.
"There is no truth to the claim and Y has been kept in an isolation ward since he tested positive," said health secretary Zahid Abbasi, adding that Y had again tested positive after a recent screening.
Abbasi stated that Y's condition was improving, but he would only be discharged from the hospital after his test results were negative for the highly contagious disease.
Pointing out that the health department had responsibly provided updates and information about the situation daily, he appealed to people to be responsible about such information as well.
*INITIALS USED TO PROTECT IDENTITY
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2020.