Senior health officials advise public to avoid large public gatherings but stress there is no need to panic
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan rose to 20 on Wednesday, as authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan announced a 14-year-old boy who had returned from Iran last month had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The boy had exhibited symptoms of coronavirus on March 6 and has since been in an isolation ward, said Gilgit-Baltistan focal person on coronavirus Dr. Shah Zamaan. Samples of the boy’s family members have also been sent for testing, he added.
“Cases in Pakistan have more than doubled in last 24 hours. This is not surprising as disease has spread in 106 countries,” Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza had posted on Twitter late on Tuesday, adding that all 19 cases reported till that point had travel histories and had only recently returned to Pakistan. “All are stable and there is no evidence of local spread as yet,” he said and urged people not to panic.
“If we act responsibly we can avoid spread. The most important to limit the spread of coronavirus is to ensure that we observe hygiene by washing hands properly, avoid touching our face and keep distance with sick people,” he said.
Separately, talking to a private news channel, Mirza urged all residents of Pakistan to avoid large public gatherings to halt the spread of the contagious virus. However, he added, academic activities should continue, with an emphasis on educating children about preventative measures such as good hygiene. “Children have strong immune systems, so they have less potential to be a victim of coronavirus,” he added.
Referring to the latest confirmed cases, Mirza said all the patients had been transferred to isolation wards. “After screening at the international airports the people who tested positive for coronavirus were shifted to hospital and are kept under strict observation,” he said, adding that those who had recovered were still in contact with health officials to ensure there was no relapse.
Earlier on Tuesday, the national tally of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 19 from seven, with 15 of the cases being reported from Sindh province. Of the remaining four, three were from the federal areas, while one was a 12-year-old in Balochistan who had recently returned from Iran.
In a public message, Sindh Health Minister Azra Fazal Pechuho said the government was pursuing a containment policy to restrict the spread of the coronavirus. “So far, we haven’t got any case of local infection as all patients had a history of travel to high-risk countries. Currently, we are hospitalizing coronavirus patients and quarantining their local contacts at home,” she said, adding that people should still avoid large gatherings and stay at home if they have no urgent need to go outside.
The Pakistan Medical Association echoed Mirza and Pechuho’s concerns and urged people to avoid large public gatherings, including matches for the ongoing Pakistan Super League cricket tournament. The fifth edition of the Twenty20 series is currently underway and is set to host multiple matches in Karachi and Lahore in the next two weeks.
“It [PSL] is boosting Pakistan’s soft image. The screening process [for the virus] should be done at the entry points of the cricket stadium. The Pakistan Cricket Board is also requested not to stop PSL or shift its matches from Karachi. We advise public to avoid large gatherings and prefer to watch these matches at home,” it said in a statement issued to media.
Stressing that there was no need to panic, the PMA urged the government to increase the number of coronavirus diagnostic centers and advised the public to adopt basic preventative measures, including good hygiene.
Editor’s Note: This story originally cited the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan as 19; it has been edited to reflect the accurate count of 20.