HYDERABAD: As Sindh reported a staggering 1,080 new coronavirus cases on Saturday - the highest yet reported by any province in a single day - a rural town in Khairpur's Kingri taluka, known for its association with Pir Pagara Syed Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi and his ancestors, was forced into the limelight.
As many as 246 coronavirus patients tested positive in Pir Jo Goth in 24 hours, bringing the town's tally up to 277 cases. Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah revealed that the new cases had been reported from 5,498 tests - which meant that nearly 20 per cent of those tested had been infected.
On Thursday, a health team had conducted tests of hundreds of people, including children, at a field camp at the town's Eidgah.
The area's MPA, Muhammad Rashid Shah Rashdi, who is the son of Pir Pagara, has also tested positive, while three doctors and two journalists are among those who have been diagnosed with the virus.
According to district health officer Muhammad Hussain Abro, they were able to trace the outbreak to an elderly woman who had passed away after visiting Hyderabad. She had seemingly contracted the virus and died of complications that are typical of it. However, she was laid to rest before being tested and the funeral was attended by people without the standard operating procedures for the burial of an infected person.
Ten persons tested positive in the town on May 5, another 10 the following day, and, a day before the sudden spike, seven others were diagnosed with the virus.
Localities where the positive cases had emerged were sealed past midnight on Friday, according to the district administration, while deputy commissioner Muhammad Naeed Sindhu claimed that the Rangers and police had been deployed to seal the neighbourhoods. He added that announcements had been made via mosques and loudspeakers, urging people to stay at home.
Area residents, however, told The Express Tribune that even those who had tested positive were seen moving around freely. "I saw some traders who had tested positive working at their shops," claimed a local journalist, who has also contracted the virus.
The journalist told The Express Tribune that those who had tested positive did not appear to be taking the threat seriously. "Many people believe that the reports are erroneous because those diagnosed with it appear to be completely asymptomatic."
417 new coronavirus cases surface in Sindh
He further claimed that local health officials had also failed to contact the infected persons on Saturday with any guidance on how to isolate themselves at home or get admitted to an isolation centre. "I only received a call from the mukhtiarkar's office, collecting information about my name, age, CNIC, address and contact number, which we had already given to the health teams when they were taking samples."
Another patient told The Express Tribune that she and her family members had put themselves in isolation based on the health advisories they had seen on the television. "The health authorities haven't contacted us to guide us about the precautions we need to adopt or to ask about any symptoms."
Separately, MPA Rashdi told the local media that he would be retested at a known laboratory in Karachi, claiming that he was experiencing none of the symptoms associated with the virus.
Expressing grave concern at the sudden spiral of contagion, the CM stated that the provincial government had sent 1,500 more testing kits to Khairpur district, where the total tally has jumped to almost 500 cases.
"This seems to be the peak, but it may rise further as we increase the number of tests," he said, referring to the enormous surge witnessed on Saturday and adding that the testing capacity was being enhanced to 6,450 a day.
Meanwhile, he said, four more patients had died of the virus, bringing the province's death toll to 180, while 8,571 patients were currently under treatment, with 101 in critical condition.
Out of the new virus cases, 583 were reported in Karachi, pushing the city's count over 8,000.
The CM further disclosed that through random testing at grocery and vegetable shops, some vendors and customers had also tested positive. "This is a dangerous sign and speaks loudly of local transmission," he stated.
(With additional reporting by Hafeez Tunio in Karachi)