All business and trading areas, major shopping malls, big markets, city parks and restaurants open

Multan-The influx of Iran-visitors returning to South Punjab region coupled with masses’ clear defiance of Section 144 enforced by the government has rung alarm bells for a Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Multan area, The Nation has learnt.

A survey conducted by The Nation found that all business and trading areas, major shopping malls, big markets, city parks and restaurants were open and a large number of people were seen there.

Despite ban on gathering of four or more people, hundreds of people were seen shopping at a time in old city markets like Hussain Agahi, Chowk Bazaar, Haram Gate, Bohar Gate, Delhi Gate and Daulat Gate areas as well as big shopping malls of the city. The wheel kept rolling throughout the day and an even bigger than routine rush was seen on major city roads, thanks to school holidays announced by the government.

In another attempt to convince the masses, Adviser on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza requested the nation on national TV on Monday to adopt social distancing policy and cooperate with the government in its efforts to avert the outbreak, but to no avail.

The situation has prompted the health experts to warn that if the COVID-19 outbreak took place in South Punjab region, the situation would go out of control of the government due to multiple factors like shortage of resources, big population and poor sanitation conditions.

Almost 137 confirmed COVID-19 cases have so far been reported from Pakistan out of which at least one patient, who recently returned from Iran, is being treated at Nishtar Hospital Multan. Health sources confirmed that majority of the cases had a travel history of Iran or China. The COVID-19 outbreak, which is declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has so far killed over 6500 people across the world and China and Iran, whom Pakistan share borders with, are two major centres of this outbreak.

Pakistan shares 909 km long border with Iran on the West. Iranian official media has reported that the virus so far has infected about 14,000 people, besides killing 853 out of which 129 got killed during last 24 hours.

Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors from South Punjab travel to Iran for pilgrimage of sacred places. While talking to this scribe, President of Azadari Council Multan Shafqat Hasnain Bhutta confirmed that about 10000 pilgrims from South Punjab were either on their way back to their home towns or stuck at Pak-Iran border.

Although Pakistan has closed all entry and crossing points with Iran to prevent virus’s proliferation, the visitors returning to South Punjab are bringing the deadly virus with them.

Keeping in view the number of visitors returning from Iran, the Divisional Administration is going to set up a big quarantine centre in Multan. “Yes, work on this project has started and it will have the capacity to house about 6000 people in quarantine at a time,” sources confirmed while talking to The Nation.

When contacted, The Commissioner Multan division Shan ul Haq said that the Quarantine Centre was being set up at Workers Welfare Complex which was a completely walled and secure area. He added that the visitors would be registered at the centre first and then their medical examination would be conducted.

He further disclosed that a number of other steps had also been taken by the Divisional Administration to tackle any untoward situation. “We’ve set up isolation wards at Nishtar Hospital and new District Headquarters Hospital building. Similarly, every health centre in the division has set up an isolation ward,” he added. He further revealed that a special control room had been set up by the health department where a focal person was appointed. He noted that cleanliness and precaution were two major safety measures to prevent COVID-19 attack. He stressed upon the citizens to adopt precautionary measures instead of getting panicked.

“We’ve just completed the training of doctors and paramedical staff to treat COVID-19 cases while a comprehensive surveillance mechanism has also been devised to monitor the situation,” the Commissioner disclosed. He said that steps were being taken to ensure enforcement of Section 144. “Strict action will be taken on opening of educational institutions, banquet halls, markets, universities, tuition centres, seminaries, congregations or gathering of four or more people as well as holding of any kind of examinations,” he further explained. He said that a crackdown against those who were involved in hoarding of hand sanitisers and masks was underway in the division and the citizens could get both the items at control rate from spots announced by the district administration.