ISLAMABAD - The government on Monday decided to engage Polio Eradication Program (PEP) teams in the country for the identification and awareness regarding novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) at community level.

The National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) has issued a letter to all provincial authorities to utilize the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) staff without compromising Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance.

The authorities have also been asked for the training of PEI staff to trickle down its expertise at district level. The PEI trained staff will search the Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI) at community level and submit the report to government focal points nominated for COVID-19.

NEOC has directed all Emergency Operations Centres (EOC) in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Baluchistan, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Municipal Corporation Islamabad (MCI) and District Health Officer (DHO) Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) to utilize PEI surveillance staff for synergistic surveillance of COVID-19.

Coordinator National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar informed The Nation that decision has been taken in support of the ongoing activities being undertaken by federal and provincial health authorities to mitigate the COVID-19 associated risks.

He said that due to the NEOC’s extensive surveillance network and capabilities, its engagement has enhanced early detection capacity for an efficient response.

The letter issued to federal and provincial EOCs said that in order to support the ongoing efforts to mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19 emergence, a decision has been made to utilize the PEI surveillance staff for synergistic surveillance of COVID-19 without compromising AFP surveillance.

It said that subsequent to the appearance of cases in neighbouring countries, the risk of importation to Pakistan is significantly higher. The health ministry in coordination with different stakeholders including provincial health departments is closely monitoring the situation.

It further said that the coordination mechanism with dedicated focal persons has also been activated.

The letter said that the PEI surveillance staff is envisaged to conduct the activities that include training of PEOC staff at provincial capitals on COVID19/SARI case definitions and surveillance and basics of IPC, labs POES contact tracing and case management by NEOC surveillance team”.

It said that the trained PEI surveillance staff will trickle down this expertise at district levels through orientation sessions and interactions with healthcare providers and support government focal points establish a functional COVID-19/SAR sentinel surveillance system in designated hospitals (government and private teaching hospitals and DHOs only).

It also asked EOCs to conduct ad-hoc active search of SARI cases on a weekly basis as part of the active surveillance to support government focal points in teaching hospitals, DHQs and private teaching hospitals only (as sentinel case based surveillance).

The letter also said for inclusion of an extra line on weekly zero report from COVID19/SARI as part of passive surveillance from government staff designated at zero sites.

Earlier, Special Assistant to Prime Minster (SAPM) on NHS Dr. Zafar Mirza had confirmed four cases of COVID-19 in country from federal capital territory and Sindh. All confirmed cases had a travel history of Iran.

The ministry had also launched an online portal and helpline 1166 for the information of any case of COVID-19.

Dr. Zafar Mirza also urged public to stay calm and responsible in the developing situation and inform government if found any suspect of COVID-19. The government also installed modern thermal scanners on all airports for the monitoring of COVID-19 suspects.