ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday warned that the government feared the spread of coronavirus in the country, but asked people not to panic, as the national tally of COVID-19-infected persons rose to 237.
In his televised address to the nation, the prime minister reassured the nation that the government had taken all necessary precautions and stressed the need for adopting the protective measures to “win this war against coronavirus”.
“I want to tell you that this virus will spread further. Keep that in mind … It is spreading in other parts of the world where there are better medical facilities and hospitals and where institutions are stronger. So keep that in mind that it will spread further here,” Imran said in his speech.
The PM’s address came as the provincial authorities confirmed more than 50 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, pushing the country’s tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 237.
Most of the new cases were reported from Sindh, where the test results of those who had arrived from Taftan, on the Pakistan-Iran border, came back positive. Other cases were reported from Punjab, K-P and Balochistan.
In his address to the nation, Imran spoke about how the virus could impact economy and businesses, gave a stern warning to hoarders and motivated the nation by saying: “Ghabrana Nahin Hai” [do not panic]. He said: “I will tell you how we can stop it.”
The prime minister explained that the option of a national lockdown came under consideration but it was ruled out because the people, including 25% of the population living under extreme poverty, could die of hunger.
While asking people to act responsibly, Imran said that the virus was dangerous for old people since it attacked their already-weakened immune system. He added that 97% of the affected people had recovered.
Referring to the pilgrims coming back to Pakistan from Iran, Imran said that the Balochistan government isolated them despite limited resources and now they were being sent back to their respective provinces.
He paid tribute to the Balochistan government and Pakistan Army for ensuring that the pilgrims arriving from Taftan were quarantined. He said that sending doctors and providing logistics to the remote areas of Balochistan was an uphill task.
He said the US, Italy and England have reacted differently to the virus but Pakistan cannot afford the same response as given by some of the European countries, because of “our very fragile economic” situation.
He added: “If we close down the country, what will happen to the poor? People will die of hunger here.”
Imran said that the virus was spreading across the world and the Pakistan government was studying responses of the other governments as to how they were fighting against the pandemic. He also said President Arif Alvi’s visit to China would help the government learn how to overcome the pandemic.
While offering solution to fight against the disease, he said, the government took the decision to prohibit public gatherings and ban events where people showed up in big numbers. He asked people to adopt precautionary measures to overcome the highly contagious disease.
Everyone must avoid gatherings of more than 40 people, especially those behind closed doors; handshake must be avoided as the contagion can easily spread through physical contact; those arriving from abroad should go into a 14-day self-quarantine; and only those with severe symptoms should visit hospitals for coronavirus test as every flu and cough is not COVID-19, he added.
“We have taken all necessary steps to tackle the coronavirus,” he said. “We as a nation have to fight against it.”
Emphasising that Pakistan needed more medical equipment, Imran said that the country had enough facemasks but more ventilators were required. For that, he said, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has already been directed to order additional ventilators from abroad.
“We have formed a coordination committee and an economic committee so we can avoid financial difficulties. It will also be ensured that prices of essential commodities do not go up,” said the PM, warning hoarders against stocking up basic commodities. “Mark my words all those who try to hoard goods will be taken to task by the government.”
Imran also sent a message to Pakistanis students stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan that the worst was behind them, as the Chinese government had almost stopped the spread of the virus. He urged the religious scholars to help the government educate citizens on the fight against the virus.
During his address, he also said that roughly 900,000 people had been screened since January 15 while the first case of coronavirus emerged in Pakistan on February 26. In addition, he gave a plan to fight against coronavirus, which had infected at least 237 people amid fears of a larger outbreak.
Earlier, in an interview to a foreign news agency, the prime minister expressed concern over the devastating impact the virus may have on economies of developing countries and urged the international community to consider writing off loans to developing countries to help them deal with the outbreak.
He said if a serious outbreak happened in Pakistan, the PTI government’s efforts to lift the economy would witness “an unstoppable slide backwards”.
“Exports would fall off, unemployment would soar and an onerous national debt would become an impossible burden. Pakistan does not have the capability and resources to deal with the novel coronavirus,” Imran said.
He called for lifting of sanctions against Iran – which has emerged as hotbed of the virus in the region – and lauded Tehran’s humanitarian imperative to contain the outbreak by pushing aside political rivalries.
Earlier, officials confirmed that the national tally of coronavirus cases had risen to 237 – 172 in Sindh, 16 in K-P, 16 in Balochistan, 26 in Punjab, 4 in Islamabad, and 3 in Gilgit-Baltistan. There has be no case in Azad Jammu and Kashmir so far.
Murtaza Wahab, adviser to Sindh chief minister on information, announced the increase in the number of virus patients in the province on his Twitter handle. A total of 274 pilgrims were tested, out of which 134 tested positive in Sukkur, Wahab tweeted.
“In the rest of Sindh, 38 patients tested positive out of which 36 are under treatment while two have recovered. Five out of the latest patients had recently returned from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he added.
K-P Information Minister Taimur Jhagra also confirmed one more case of COVID-19, pushing the provincial tally to 16. “… [We] have received news of one new positive case of coronavirus in Abbottabad. The gentleman has come to Pakistan from the UK. This takes K-P’s total cases to 16.”
Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani, confirmed six new cases in the provinces, raising the province’s tally to 16. “Patients are being treated in the isolation ward at Sheikh Khalifah Bin Zayyad Hospital [in Quetta],” he said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, announced 18 fresh cases in the province on his official Twitter handle. “On the basis of test reports of suspected patients, I can confirm that the number of confirmed coronavirus patients is now 26,” he wrote.
The chief minister also announced that 736 pilgrims had been quarantined for tests in Dera Ghazi Khan after their arrival from Taftan. Similarly, 1,276 more pilgrims would also be placed in quarantine upon their return to the province from Taftan.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), in its situational report on Tuesday said that four patients had been discharged from hospitals after recovering – one in Islamabad and three in Sindh. However, the Sindh Health Department put the tally of discharged patients at two.
According to NIH, a total of 995,821 travellers had been screened at entry points so far out of which 20,187 travellers were checked in the 24 hours. The total number of suspected patients in the country stood at 533.
(With additional input from our correspondents in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.)