ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan will chair the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting today (Friday) to hammer out a strategy to deal with coronavirus as the army chief ordered his top commanders to gear up “in support of a national effort” to counter the pathogen.
According to sources, the meeting of the top consultative body will be attended by services chiefs including army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hameed apart from top advisers and cabinet ministers.
“The government has convened the NSC meeting to review the situation arising out of coronavirus in the country. The government was already on alert to prevent the disease,” the prime minister said on Thursday while addressing a parliamentary party meeting of the ruling PTI.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic.
The NSC meeting was announced as the country confirmed its 21st novel coronavirus case in Skardu while Punjab – the country’s most populous province –declared a “health emergency” to deal with the contagious disease.
According to Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, the NSC will decide the kind to be taken to deal with the situation including "refraining people from participating in public gathering”.
Earlier in the day, the 230th Corps Commanders’ Conference – chaired by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters – discussed among other things the contagion – also called COVID-19.
“The forum also discussed emerging situation with regards to COVID-19 and preventive measures taken at army’s level. The COAS directed all concerned to gear up preparations in support of national effort to counter this pandemic in case of any eventuality,” said a statement issued by the military’s media wing.
A spokesperson for Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government confirmed on Thursday that a young man has been tested positive for the coronavirus which has infected nearly 125,000 people in 118 countries in all continents barring Antarctica. “The 31-year-old man, who hails from Shagar area of the G-B, had recently been to Iran,” the spokesperson, Faizullah Firaq, told The Express Tribune.
The patient has been shifted to the Isolation ward of the G-B hospital. So far, three coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in the region, but, Firaq said, the G-B is at a greater risk from the virus as compared to other parts of the country.
Over in Punjab, the government declared health emergency in the province. The decision was taken by the provincial cabinet on Thursday after receiving a briefing on the coronavirus from health officials.
The provincial cabinet was informed that as many as 3,964 Zaireen who returned from a pilgrimage in Iran have been screened and kept under observation. A quarantine facility has been established in the southern Punjab district of DG Khan for 800 pilgrims from Iran.
The cabinet was also informed that Chinese citizens in the province are also being screened for the mysterious contagion. A ministerial committee has been assigned to decide further actions.
Meanwhile Sindh and Balochistan provinces on Thursday also announced to keep all educational institutions in their territories closed respectively till May 30 and March 31.
In Balochistan, which shares a border with Iran – one of the worst hit countries by the coronavirus – Provincial Minister Yar Mohammad Rind said all schools would remain closed as precautionary measure.
“Action will be taken against schools that do not comply with the decision which has been taken after consultation with the health ministry,” he added.
“Matric exams have been postponed. We’re in talks with to shut madrassahs as well. A decision regarding reopening of educational institutions will be taken on March 27.”
A day earlier, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus officially declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus a global pandemic.
“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” he told a news conference.
Four countries – China, South Korea, Iran and Italy – account for 93% of the nearly 110,000 cases worldwide, Tedros said. “We are encouraged that Italy is taking aggressive measures to contain its epidemic and we hope that those measures prove effective in the coming days,” he added.
What does the pandemic label mean?
“Due to the widespread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the mysterious virus, across the globe, the WHO wants to highlight the importance for countries to strengthen their preparation and response for imminent community spread,” said State Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza.
This means the world can “still change the course of this pandemic, by detecting, testing, treating, isolating, tracing, and mobilising their people in the response”, he wrote on his official Twitter handle.
“The countries need to scale up their emergency response by communicating with the people about risks and how to protect the public,” he added.
About Pakistan, where 21 cases have officially been confirmed, Dr Mirza said the federal and provincial governments have been working in sync for the past seven weeks to implement the broad cardinals of preparedness and response as the WHO DG has highlighted.
“We will inshAllah continue to work to keep the flag of Pakistan safe from coronavirus,” he added. (With additional input from our correspondents in Karachi, Lahore)