Pakistan’s worst fears have come true as the first two coronavirus cases were reported in the country, creating panic among citizens and potentially a new health crisis. The country is the last in the region to report the outbreak but lacks the capability to deal effectively with it.
The first positive case of the COVID-19 was reported in Karachi. The victim had recently traveled to Iran and despite the government’s repeated assurances that all safety measures were taken at the ports of entry, it is now known that he was not screened at the airport. This speaks volumes of the government’s lack of effort and dereliction of responsibilities potentially risking several other passengers.
These concerns became profound as the virus was knocking on our doors. Neigbouring Iran has been the worst affected country outside China recording at least 15 deaths and over a hundred affected. The religious city of Qom remains Iran’s epicentre and Pakistan pilgrims frequently visit there. Another case was reported in Islamabad but further details have not been shared.
The immediate response of the government has been dismal. The prime minister’s aide on health has urged people not to panic; assuring that the situation was under control. The government had received detection kits from Japan but these were only used at Islamabad airport. Despite the assurances, there is reason enough to panic as the epidemic has been spreading globally and risks even more people.
The government promptly took contingency plans over coronavirus fears. Schools in Sindh were closed for two days and in Balochistan till March 15. Pakistan has already sealed the border with Iran and suspended flights. The Sindh government has formed a taskforce to chalks out a strategy to prevent the spread of the virus. It is estimated that over 1500 people have been identified who recently returned from Iran or came into contact with those coming from the virus-hit country. The number could be higher and they should be traced and checked for symptoms before the situation gets out of control.
Health authorities are incapable of handling the situation as they face enormous challenges. Those who test positive have to be isolated to limit movement. This requires designated hospitals and trained personnel to monitor those at risk or showing symptoms. The government needs to take the matter seriously and summon all relevant departments to work in unison.
People need to take protective measures and report to authorities when they have flu-like symptoms by either visiting a hospital. In times of adversity, many opportunist elements have hiked the price of surgical masks manifold. We need to remain united in the face of calamities that befall us and resolve to fight them.