ISLAMABAD                 -               Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi yesterday said that the stranded Pakistanis abroad will be brought back soon. Chairing a meeting here, he said flight operations in many countries were currently suspended due to lockdown caused by coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting reviewed possibilities to bring back Pakistanis waiting to return to their homeland in foreign countries, said an official statement. The FM said coronavirus was a global challenge and all the countries have to work together to defeat the pandemic. “Our capacities to deal with coronavirus outbreak are improving, but at the same time, the numbers of coronavirus patients are also increasing. We will have to continuously monitor this situation,” Qureshi said,

The meeting was attended by Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant on Overseas Zulfikar Bukhari, Special Assistant on National Security Dr Moeed Yousaf, Chairman National Disaster Management Authority Lt. General Muhammad Afzal, Executive Director National Institute of Health Amir Ikram, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood and Chief Executive Officer Shaukat Khanum Hospital Dr Faisal Sultan.

Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza briefed the meeting about spread of coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan and risk assessment. The meeting discussed the situation after resumption of international flight operation which was halted until April 4 and the ways and means to bring back stranded Pakistanis abroad.

Qureshi said fight against Coronavirus needed a persistent approach to stop its spread in the country. He said the number of infected cases has increased despite the government beefed up protective measures, which required continuous efforts. The Chairman NDMA gave an update on testing and quarantine facilities for passengers at the airports. Qureshi said the government had established a Command and Control Center to ensure effective coordination among the federal and provincial governments on control of COVID-19.

He said the facility would work under the NDMA. “The provinces have been asked to nominate their representatives so that they can work in tandem through a standardized mechanism,” the foreign minister said. The National Coordination Committee also decided to put in place protective measures for health worker who remained a front-line defence during the challenge of coronavirus, he said.

The decisions in this regard include improvement in testing facility and purchase of new PCR machines – also known as thermal cycler most commonly used to amplify segments of DNA via the polymerase chain reaction. He said keeping a balance between lockdown and provision of basic necessities of life to public was stressed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Qureshi said issuing mere notifications barring congregational Friday prayers at mosques was not enough, rather convincing public to maintain social distancing was more important.

He pointed out that when the Sindh government last Friday put a ban on gathering at mosques, the people instead assembled at roads to offer prayers.

He said the Saudi government had sent a letter to Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs urging halt of arrangements for Hajj in view of spike in coronavirus, though a final decision on Hajj was not taken yet.