People wearing facemasks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, wait at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistani health ministry has announced multiple measures including screening of passengers at airports as hundreds of cases of new viral respiratory illness have been confirmed in China.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has introduced the screening measures at four major airports — in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar — in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Screenings begin at major airports

At least 40 direct or indirect flights land every week from China at the country’s three major airports in Lahore, Karachi and the capital city of Islamabad. “These points of entry are being closely monitored in line with international health regulations,” Federal Minister of Health Dr Zafar Mirza said in a statement. Pakistan has also strengthened surveillance, quarantine and case management systems, he added.

At Islamabad International Airport, every passenger from China would have to pass through health counters where doctors and paramedics would inspect them through thermal body scanning machines and thermometers. In case someone is identified as the virus-carrier, they would be kept in isolation rooms designated by the CAA before being shifted to the hospital.

Extra precautions would be in place to deal with the expected influx of Chinese workers when they come back after celebrating the Lunar New Year.

Fear of spread in Pakistan

Thousands of Pakistani and Chinese nationals who frequently travel between the two countries have sparked fears of possible infection. Thousands of Chinese citizens who are working in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and nearly 30,000 Pakistani students who are studying in China could pose a threat to the country. “I have extended my stay in Pakistan after the news of virus outbreak,” Asad Ullah, a Pakistani student pursuing a doctoral degree in Shanghai, told Gulf News. “I am here in Pakistan but I am extremely worried about my friends in Shanghai. I hope the situation will be under control soon.”

Amid the fears, a top pharmacy outlet in Islamabad’s F-6 supermarket ran out of both N95 masks and surgical masks. “A Chinese man bought all the masks. Is there anything to worry about?” the seller asked looking rather surprised.

Pakistan has alerted hospitals and clinics across the country to the threat posed by the coronavirus that can be transmitted from people to people. Pakistan’s health ministry is also closely coordinating with the Chinese embassy and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for continuous monitoring. The ministry has established an emergency operations centre and prepared a detailed action plan to be strictly followed by the airports and all concerned airlines. A helpline would soon be activated to facilitate the people.

NDMA and PIA also step up to deal with the threat

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is also prepared to deal with the health threat. In collaboration with Army Medical Corps, Ministry of Health and others, it has initiated precautionary measures to keep Pakistan safe from the threat, the NDMA said.

Meanwhile, as part of precautionary measures, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has decided to suspend the flight operation between Pakistan and China till January 30, local media reported.

The outbreak is believed to have originated from a seafood market in China’s city of Wuhan, home to 11 million people.