Islamabad: Following urgent calls for medical supplies, Pakistan on Friday received tonnes of protective gear and testing kits from China to contain the spread of coronavirus. The continuing and unprecedented assistance from China via air and road comes at a critical time when Pakistan’s ill-equipped medical workers struggle to treat patients as the number of confirmed cases surpassed 1,200 on Friday.
“At least 2 tonnes of masks, test kits, ventilators, medical protective clothes worth Rs67 million [Dh1.5 million) were handed over [to Pakistani officials] at Khunjerab Pass”, the highest paved international border, according to a statement by Chinese embassy in Pakistan. “This is the friendship higher than mountains!” the embassy tweeted.
On Friday morning, trucks full of medical supplies were unloaded at the border as the teams from both sides braved the harsh weather and snow. Meanwhile, a plane carrying 50,000 coronavirus testing kits also arrived in Karachi on March 27. This was the second bulk consignment sent by China’s Alibaba and Jack Ma Foundation within days. On March 25, the foundation sent 500,000 surgical masks and 50,000 N95 respirators to Pakistan. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Consul General of China Li Bijian and other officials received the supplies at Karachi airport.
15,000 protective suits
On March 26, Yan Chen, managing director of Challenge Group of Companies from China called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to donate 15,000 protection suits for Pakistani doctors and paramedical staff on the frontline battling the pandemic. To meet the increasing demand for protective gear, China will help produce the protection suit in Pakistan’s city of Lahore, said the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing. Chinese government and leadership is committed to support Pakistan in combating Covid-19 as their top priority, the ambassador added.
Pakistani premier conveyed sincere gratitude to China for supporting Pakistan. “The medical equipment provided by China will greatly strengthen Pakistan’s capacity” to fight the virus, PM Imran Khan said.
Equipment to arrive soon
Pakistan will receive around 20 tonnes of medical goods and 20 ventilators on an urgent basis from China this week, said Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Lt. Gen. Mohammed Afzal, during March 27 media talk. Additionally, two more planes would bring 100 tonnes of urgently needed medical equipment from Beijing and Chengdu next week.
Following Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar’s request, a Chinese university has also agreed to work with Pakistani medical experts to convert a university campus into a 1,000-bed field hospital. The field hospital would be set up in Lahore. The University would also work in collaboration with Pakistani scientists to develop testing kits and other equipment in Pakistan.
Chinese doctors to help Pakistan
China will also send an eight-member team of doctors next week to work closely with local health officials. “China is preparing a medical team to visit Pakistan who will pay field trips to different localities in Pakistan,” Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of China’s National Health Commission told Pakistan’s state-run news agency, APP. The team would also share experiences and exchange views on the use of technology to combat the epidemic. The Chinese team will also support Pakistan in building temporary quarantine hospitals.
Walk-through testing machine
The Chinese government is also sending a walk-through testing machine to Pakistan to diagnose a large number of suspected people for the novel coronavirus. The “walk-through machine will arrive at Khunjerab Pass by next week” and it would ensure mass testing especially in the areas with Covid-19 clusters, the NDMA chairman said.
Full gear for 30,000 ICU workers
There are currently 194,000 medical health practitioners in Pakistan, of which 30,000 work in ICUs. “These 30,000 medical practitioners working in ICUs will be equipped with complete medical kit by April,” he said. Each box will contain face-shields, goggles, two N95 and 30 surgical masks, hand wash kit.
The number of beds in the intensive care unit (ICUs) in Pakistan currently is 19,670. The capacity of quarantine facilities has also been enhanced from 500 beds to 162,000 now. Pakistan’s Covid-19 command and control centre has also booked 1,795 three-star and four-star hotels where 40,000 patients can be accommodated if required.
There are nearly 2200 ventilators available in public hospitals. The number of the imported ventilators will reach to 1,000 by April 10 to 15, the NDMA chief said. This number would rise to 2,000 to 3,000 by April 25 and the officials expect to enhance it to 8,000 and 10,000 by May.
Pakistan would have enough medical equipment, including personal protection kits, by April 5 to improve the safety of the health officials working on the frontline, said Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza.
Top 3 priorities
Pakistan’s top three priorities under the Covid-19 strategy, according to NDMA chairman:
1. Medical gear for doctors & health workers
2. Ventilators & supplies for treatment of patients
3. Coronavirus testing kits