ISLAMABAD                 -              The government of Pakistan on Monday increasing the strength of health staff at the Pak-Iran border sent a rapid response force there for screening of passengers and in an attempt to prevent Coronavirus (COVID-19) from entering the country.

The Emergency Core Group (ECG) monitoring the COVID-19 situation held a meeting headed by Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Health Services (NHS) Dr. Zafar Mirza, and Minister for Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri here.

The meeting was attended by Secretary Health Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Executive Director (ED) National Institute of Health (NIH) Dr. Aamir Ikram, representative of military and health experts. Provincial chief secretaries and representatives also participated in the meeting through video-link.  

The meeting reviewed the situation created after the confirmation of COVID-19 cases in all neighbouring countries and particularly Iran. Discussing the preparations on the Pak-Iran border, the meeting decided to increase the strength of health staff at the border.

The meeting also decided to send a rapid response force of health to the Pak-Iran border in this regard.

Two senior officials who attended the meeting told The Nation that the sudden emergence of Coronavirus in Iran and particularly in the region where Pakistani pilgrims visit has alarmed the situation.

The officials said that around 5000 Pakistan pilgrims are still in Iran and it has increased the risk, while confirmation of a virus case in Afghanistan also increased the sensitivity of the situation.

They further said that the government has planned to convey the pilgrims in Iran to stay in Iran until the situation is controlled. He said that the pilgrims returning from Iran will also be kept in surveillance for 14 days.

The officials said that the Baluchistan government has asked NIH for the virus testing facility there and now the influenza surveillance lab will be up-graded with the facility of virus testing.

The officials said that all provinces were also conveyed that after confirmation of virus in all surrounding countries, they should also remain on high alert regarding their preparations to cope with any situation because there is a risk of virus transmission in the country.

They also said that as the health infrastructure is weak in detection and treatment of possible cases so the government has strictly focused on surveillance at entry and exit points of the country.

It was also discussed to thoroughly investigate the suspected cases because it is difficult to assure that the suspect case could be ignored on reported symptoms.

The official said that it was best in public interest to keep risky population away from the border because the government’s health system cannot sustain if the COVID-19 is confirmed.

The officials also said that so far 100 suspected cases have been reported and their tests were declared negative.

SAPM on NHS Dr. Zafar Mirza said that trained staff is screening all passengers on entry and exit points of the country.

He added that the diagnostic kits have been provided in Quetta as well and all passengers travelling from Iran are also being given the health declaration forms.

He said that the government has established an emergency operation cell while passengers are also being monitored through telephone calls.