ISLAMABAD - The Senate Standing Committee on Inte­rior on Thursday took serious notice of high increase in prices of face masks in different cities following two confirmed cases of novel Coronavirus surfaced in the country and ordered a crackdown on those involved in price hike of the protec­tive gear.

While chairing the Senate panel, Sena­tor A. Rehman Malik took serious notice of increase in prices of masks and direct­ed the government to launch a crackdown on such elements involved in price hike and black marketing of the equipment while taking advantage of national ca­lamity. This trend must be curbed so that masks and medication are made accessi­ble to the masses, he stressed.

The committee in an emergency called meeting expressed grave concerns over the confirmation of first two cases of Coronavirus in Pakistan, declared it as “National Security Hazard” and asked the government to devise the “Anti-Corona­virus National Action Plan” to battle this deadly epidemic. The chairman commit­tee directed complete ban on the export of protective masks, accessories and med­icines used in the diagnoses and treat­ment of deadly Coronavirus.

“The import of all accessories and med­ication for Coronavirus treatment and di­agnosis shall be exempted from custom duty for the use in government hospi­tals and institutions,” he also directed to the government officials concerned who attended the meeting. Senator Rehman Malik expressed his concern over the in­adequate arrangements at airports, sea­ports, other entry points of the country and even hospitals to control the epidem­ic. He said that the government should have placed proper arrangements at all these points for proper screening of all those entering Pakistan.

“Pakistanis in hundreds have entered from Iran and other affected countries in last few days and went unchecked for Coronavirus,” he said and directed the Ministry of Interior to identify those 7,500 pilgrims who recently visited Iran for pilgrimage and returned Pakistan in the last few weeks.

The chair appealed to all those pil­grims who have returned from Iran to volunteer themselves for proper screen­ing and medical check-up, saying that in the best interest for them, their families and country as a whole. “Such people and their families must be quarantined for 14 days and they shall be provided with free food and medicines on government ex­penses.” He directed those who are diag­nosed with the virus, their family mem­bers must be tested and be quarantined.

Senator Rehman Malik also directed the Ministry of Inte­rior to constitute a Ministerial Core Committee to trace, iden­tify and ensure proper medical check-up, screening of these 7,500 Pakistanis and their families. At the start of the meet­ing, Senator Rehman Malik said that he took suo-moto notice into the matter dur­ing his recent visit to Quetta after assess­ing growing danger of Coronavirus in the country especially the entry of 7,500 Paki­stani prompted this action. The commit­tee discussed in detail the measures taken both by ministries of interior and nation­al health services to curb the potential spread of the Coronavirus in the country.

He said that the breakout of Coro­navirus should be declared as nation­al security threat and should be fought at war footings. He added that accord­ing to the World Health Organisation (WHO) such diseases have been no­tified by the UN as national securi­ty threats, hence, immediate measure should be adopted. He ordered open­ing of audit-able accounts to raise pub­lic funds to fight this virus. He took the notice of inadequate funds allocated for this virus and directed the government to enhance the funds forthwith. He di­rected the chief commissioner Islama­bad to ensure action in place to secure the capital free of this deadly virus.

In his opening remarks, chairman com­mittee lauded the services and sacrifices of Pakistan armed forces and remarked that 27th February, is a day of pride, since on this day last year, Pakistan gave a be­fitting response to Indian aggression. He highly appreci­ated the Bajwa Doc­trine, saying this has brought a durable peace in the country.

He also welcomed President Donald Trump’s statement about Pakistan given in India and said that Pakistan has been at the forefront in the war on terror and hoped that the US will support Pakistan in removing its name from FATF’s grey list.

The chairman committee said that he himself witnessed that officials working at airports were without wearing masks and other precautionary measures and on inquiry, he was told that they are not provided with masks. He directed the Na­tional Institute of Health to urgently pro­vide N-95 masks to the officials and staff of Airport Security Force, Federal Inves­tigation Agency (FIA) and other law en­forcement agencies deployed at airports and make it mandatory as part of their uniform.

The chair directed Ministry of Nation­al Health Services and the FIA to de­pute and facilitate the designated medi­cal staff at all exit and entry points across the country. He also said that health min­istry should ensure the anti-coronavirus arrangements and availability of N-95 masks for the doctors and paramedical staff in all hospitals. He also directed for thorough vigilance at all exit/entry points of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan and Iran. The committee asked that an emer­gency must be declared at Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders.

The meeting tasked the Ministry of In­terior to take all the measures for the safe return of Pakistani students stranded in different cities of China within 15 days in coordination with the Chinese govern­ment. It was also directed that the flights returning from China and other afflicted countries must be diverted to especially designated airports to avoid further risk.

The chair directed that an “isolation ward” must be established in Islamabad. The chief commissioner assured the com­mittee that it will make a liaison with the health ministry and support it in all its efforts to curb the spread of the virus. “Only the cabinet can approve budget for the isolation ward,” the commissioner in­formed the panel.

The committee directed that a report on the situation and required budget with proposals must be submitted to it in the next meeting scheduled to be held on March 4.

The chair urged the media to avoid hype and spread awareness about the Coronavirus among masses. He directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ensure that aware­ness material produced by the health ministry must be disseminated to all channels making it mandatory for airing.