The authorities in Pakistan are taking rapid measures to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) amid growing number of cases in the country.
The government of Sindh was highly regarded for resorting to prompt measures by enforcing a 15-day lockdown, urging public to stay indoors until the virus is contained.
The decision of Sindh government was apparently replicated by the Punjab government which also announced lockdown of the province for 14-days.
Pakistan’s first coronavirus death was reported on March 18. Saadat Khan, 50, had returned to Pakistan on March 9 from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, said a report.
Khan was Pakistan’s first fatality from a disease that is rapidly spreading through the country of 220 million people. The virus has already infected over 317,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 13,000.
The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan has soared to more than 750 from 22 last week, largely driven by a wave of pilgrims returning from Iran who Pakistani authorities said were inadequately tested and improperly isolated. At least four people have died from the disease in Pakistan in the past week.
Thousands of people now need to undergo the slow process of retesting, and authorities fear the number of cases could surge in coming days.
Health experts say there is a lack of public awareness in Pakistan about the virus and that the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle its spread. A shortage of quarantine facilities and testing labs have also hampered efforts to effectively deal with high-risk cases.
In Sindh, Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, the situation is already grim, said Dr. Naseem Salahuddin, the head of department for infectious diseases at Indus Hospital in Karachi. She said that the few hospitals equipped to handle COVID-19 cases in Karachi are either close to capacity or have shut their doors because they can’t handle the influx of suspected cases.
“We’re likely to have a very big outbreak no matter what we do now,” she said. “And we will not be equipped to handle the numbers. There will be breakdowns at many levels.” Better border controls and quarantine measures should have been instituted a lot earlier, she said. “I think the cat’s now out of the bag.”
Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, who said last week that some of Pakistan’s quarantine facilities had not been “ideal”, did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Reuters said the provincial health minister in prime minister’s home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also did not respond to a request for comment.