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Residents wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus, wait for their turn at a coronavirus registration and screening counter at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Islamabad on March 19. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Despite calls to enforce lockdown, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has dismissed the possibility, for now, saying that the country cannot afford curfew-like situation, which would hit the poorest hard. However, the government might consider the lockdown if the number of cases spike and action will be taken step-by-step to minimise panic.

Khan urged people to strictly follow social distancing and self-quarantine as the country is facing two major threats due to the coronavirus outbreak. “I fear if the number of Covid-19 cases suddenly surge, like it has happened in Europe, our health care system would not be able to cope,” he said. Another major challenge is fear and chaos. Fear can spread faster than the virus, which is leading to panic buying and hoarding all over the world. He urged the media to focus on educating people, as it is the collective responsibility of all citizens.

What equipment and facilities Pakistan has to fight Covid-19?

In a media briefing on Friday, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal shared the government’s response and preparedness to coronavirus.

“Currently, there are 1600 beds available in nine hospitals with three in Punjab, two in Sindh, two in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, one each in Quetta and Gwadar, one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two in Gilgit Baltistan.” Moreover, one ward in all the major hospitals had been specified as an isolation facility, he added.

The total number of ventilators available across the country for critically-ill coronavirus patients are 1,700. Amid the drastic shortage and advance booking of ventilators globally, Pakistan has managed to get around 800 ventilators with the help of China. But the government is contacting several companies to increase the number to 6,000, the chairman of NDMA said.

There are currently 12 million masks available in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and another 12 million have been booked. Around 100,000 masks were available in Peshawar and 50,000 in Balochistan. About 12,500 suits are available for health workers. Nearly 2,000 laser thermometers are available at different entry points while another 30,000 would be imported from China. There are some 15,000 N-95 masks available in stock, mainly for medical staff while 50,000 more would be available shortly. Meanwhile, the Chinese tech company, Alibaba, has also donated 50,000 masks to Pakistan.

Pakistan has also established 1200 single bed-with separate bathroom accommodation at 3 entry points at the western border, which can be increased to 1,000 if needed. The total quarantine beds available in the country are 23,557 and some 2,942 isolation beds. There are 215 hospitals with isolation centres and 15 testing facilities.

Pakistan’s current coronavirus situation

Pakistan, a country of 220 million, now has more than 500 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (as of March 21 afternoon) with three coronavirus deaths reported. The country’s’ National Institute of Health’s risk assessment for coronavirus in Pakistan is currently high.

Pakistan reported its first case on February 26 in Karachi when a man who returned from Iran tested positive. The country saw a sharp surge as more pilgrims returning from Iran tested positive. A total of 6,304 pilgrims returned to Pakistan from February 28 to March 17. Nearly 1,000 of them are in quarantine in Sukkur followed by 782 in quarantine in Dera Gazi Khan. Pakistan has screened around 1,409,798 travellers at all entry points (air, land and sea).

Economic package to support people

The government is working on an economic package to support the people, industry and the country’s economy from the negative effects of the pandemic. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank have committed to providing $588 million to help Pakistan fight the virus. Adviser on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said that the International Monetary Fund has agreed that expenses incurred during the outbreak would not be counted in the country’s deficit.

Pakistan Army actively helping government control coronavirus

The Pakistan Army has been in action from day one and is deploying all resources to help the government implement the comprehensive coronavirus strategy. The plan includes screening, isolation, testing, check on suspected cases, and contact tracing as well as keeping a strict check on all exit and entry points of travellers. Measures are being taken to make the armed forces’ medical facilities available for an “extreme emergency” situation, said Major General Babar Iftikhar, the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Partial lockdown in provinces

In the wake of rise in confirmed cases, provincial governments have issued orders to partially shut public spaces. Sindh province was the first to announce drastic measures. Beginning with closing down educational institutes, it then banned public gathering, closed down malls, restaurants, gyms, and places of social gathering across the province for two weeks. Only grocery stores, pharmacies will remain open. Similar partial shutdown has been announced in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to prevent the spread of virus.

Available medical equipment in Pakistan to fight coronavirus
-1,700 ventilators
- 12 million masks
- 12,500 protective suits for health workers
- 15,000 N95 masks + 50,000 masks donated by Alibaba
- 2,000 laser thermometers
Medical facilities in Pakistan
-9 isolation hospitals with 1,600 beds
- 23,557 quarantine beds
- 2,942 isolation beds
- 215 hospitals with isolation facilities
- 15 testing facilities
- 1,200 single bed-with separate bathroom accommodation at 3 entry points at western border
What has Pakistan ordered or booked?
- 100,000 test kits
- 800 ventilators booked
- 30,000 laser thermometers (from China)
- 12 million masks booked
- 50,000 N95 masks
- Mobile x-ray machines
- Plan to take the number of ventilators from 1700 to 6000 in 4-6 weeks
Pakistan and coronavirus facts:
Population: 220 million
Confirmed COVID cases: 534 (as of March 21 afternoon)
Sindh: 259
Punjab: 104
Balochistan: 103
KP: 27
GB: 30
ICT: 10
AJK: 1

Coronavirus deaths: 3 (as of March 21)