Multan-As the South Punjab region braces to receive more pilgrims returning from Iran, the Punjab government has decided to set up a state-of-the-art 50-bed isolation and treatment centre for suspected Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients at Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Muzaffargarh, The Nation has learnt.

Sources disclosed that work on the proposed centre would start within a couple of days and it would become functional during ongoing week. “All out resources including trained medical staff, diagnosis kits, ventilators, masks and necessary medicines will be provided to this centre. Dedicated staff trained to handle the suspected cases will be deployed,” sources added.

Besides this centre, every district headquarters hospital (DHQ) in South Punjab will set up a 10-bed isolation ward for the suspected COVID-19 cases, sources further revealed.

Every year hundreds of thousands of faithful from South Punjab travel to Iran for the pilgrimage of sacred places. Health sources claim that both the confirmed COVID-19 cases reported from Pakistan—one from Karachi and the other Rawalpindi—had recently returned from Iran. Similarly, a couple from Layyah, who are being treated at Nishtar Hospital Multan on suspicion of CIVD-19 infection, have also returned from Iran a week ago.

“The massive movement of people to Iran from South Punjab has rung warning bells, prompting the government to set up a dedicated COVID-19 care and treatment centre in South Punjab forthwith,” sources added. Sources disclosed that the lists for the needed medical staff, equipment, medicines and other preventive items were being prepared and the funds would be released as soon as the lists were finalized.

Talking to this scribe, President of Azadari Council Multan Shafqat Hasnain Bhutta confirmed that an estimated 5000-10000 pilgrims from South Punjab were currently stuck at Pak-Iran border. “They’re facing very tough conditions and we demand the government to bring them back as soon as possible.

Keeping in view COVID-19 outbreak in Iran, Pakistan has closed all entry and crossing points with it to prevent virus’s proliferation. The government has set up screening point and quarantine facility at Pak-Iran border for those returning to Pakistan.

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from a confirmation given by the Deputy Health Minister of Iran Alireza Raisi on state TV that at least 66 people have died and 1,501 people infected by COVID-19 in the country. International media reported that Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, a member of the Expediency Council, died after contracting the coronavirus while Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar and head of the country’s task force on COVID-19 Iraj Harirchi had got infected.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 outbreak an international emergency and released US$ 15 million to help vulnerable countries battle with this epidemic. The COVID-19 has so far claimed over 3000 lives, besides infecting over 92,000 across the world. The virus was first reported from Wuhan, China on December 31 and since then it has spread to 58 countries.