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Pakistan to Suspend Iran Flights from Tonight

by Newsweek Pakistan

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah

Sindh province forms task force after two confirmed novel coronavirus cases in men who had recently traveled to neighboring nation

Pakistan on Thursday announced that it would suspend flights to-and-from Iran, days after suspending road and rail movement between the two nations, in light of a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in the Middle East nation.

The decision comes a day after two cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in Pakistan with both men having visited Iran before travel was restricted. Earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had also called for a suspension of all flights from Iran as part of “preventative measures” to stop the virus from spreading in Pakistan.

“[The] Aviation Division has decided to cease all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran with effect from midnight between February 27 and 28, 2020, till further notice,” said a senior official of the Aviation Division. In a posting on Twitter, national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines also announced that no pilgrims or tourists would be permitted to fly to Saudi Arabia with immediate effect. However, it added, flights would continue as normal to allow pilgrims already in the Gulf kingdom to return home. Anyone with a residential permit, or iqama, or special permission would also be allowed to visit Saudi Arabia, it added.

The Saudi government had already announced that it was “temporarily” suspending Umrah and tourism operations to avoid the spread of coronavirus in the country. It has not yet given any timeframe for how long these restrictions might last.

In his press conference, the Sindh chief minister said he would consult with the federal government about medical screening at airports for all travelers. “I was informed that screening at the airport was not adequate. We have also asked the private sector in this regard since they might have more expertise in this area,” he told journalists.

According to Shah, 1,500 people have been identified who have traveled between Sindh and Iran in the past few days. “If anyone has any symptoms, our team will visit and monitor them,” he said, adding trained personnel would visit all suspected cases to ensure the disease could be prevented from spreading.

The Sindh chief minister said strict action would be taken against anyone found hoarding or profiting from the sale of masks in the province, adding law enforcement authorities have been directed to ensure the safety measures can be offered for patients at hospitals instead of in shops.

Shah also urged media to avoid creating any panic by disclosing the personal details of patients. “Confidentiality is key in this matter. Please do not share the details of patients,” he said. “This is a national emergency and everyone has to take responsibility… I have also contacted the other three chief ministers that we should work together,” he added.

As part of the Sindh government’s measures against the spread of the coronavirus, the chief minister has constituted a task force comprising the chief secretary, health secretary, commissioner Karachi and other senior officials. He has also instructed the provincial health department to work with hospitals to prevent an epidemic.

On Wednesday night, Pakistan reported its first two cases of coronavirus. “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,” Special Assistant to P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza posted on Twitter. He assured Pakistanis that there was no reason to panic, adding that everything was under control.

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