Asia - Pacific

Pakistan stays under lockdown amid coronavirus outbreak

Streets deserted, offices, markets, and public spots remain closed as COVID-19 cases spike to nearly 900

Islamuddin Sajid and Aamir Latif   | 24.03.2020
Pakistan stays under lockdown amid coronavirus outbreak

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI, Pakistan 

Millions stayed indoors across Pakistan on Tuesday following a lockdown ordered by the government, which is battling to contain the fast-rising number of coronavirus cases in the South Asian nuclear state.

Streets were deserted, public transport, offices, shops, markets, parks, and other public spots remained closed in all the four provinces, the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir as the coronavirus tally spiked to nearly 900 with seven confirmed deaths.

On Monday, the government had okayed the deployment of army troops nationwide to reinforce lockdown, which will run through the next two weeks.

The government also announced suspension of railway operations across the country from Tuesday midnight to March 31. People jostled in long queues at Karachi, Lahore and other railway stations to board the trains before suspension, footage aired on local broadcaster Geo News showed.

There were reports from several remote areas, where people did not heed to the lockdown call.

In capital Islamabad, commercial capital Karachi, cultural hub Lahore, and other major cities, the normally bustling streets and public spots were empty as the army, and the police patrolled the streets.

Law enforcing agencies used containers, and barbed wires to block the main roads in several cities, including Karachi, to keep the motorcyclists off the streets. Individuals related to essential services, however, were allowed to move, and pharmacies, and grocery stores stayed open.

Footage aired on local Geo News showed police intercepting young bikers, and deflating their bikes' tyres, and urging the people through megaphones to stay off the streets in several cities.

Scores of people, including shopkeepers, violating the lockdown were arrested in several cities.

The judiciary, including the supreme and the high courts have also limited their operations, and are hearing only essential cases.

The Islamabad High Court ordered release of hundreds of prisoners involved in petty crimes on bail, in a bid to reduce the hazards of COVID-19 outbreak in jails.

The move coincided with the first confirmed coronavirus case in a Lahore jail.

The government imposed a state of emergency in the five districts of southwestern Balochistan province, which border the coronavirus-battered Iran, in a desperate attempt to quench the increasing number of the novel virus cases, said an official statement.

They include the strategic Gwadar district, a key route of multibillion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The government announced it was allowing some 640 suspected patients, who had been quarantined for 14 days, to go home after they were declared "clear". All those had returned from Iran and were quarantined in Sukkur district of southern Sindh province.

Another ten coronavirus patients in Sindh recovered raising the total number of recoveries to 16, Murtaza Wahab, a spokesman for Sindh government said in a Twitter post.

In southwestern Balochistan province, which borders the coronavirus-battered Iran, has announced a five-day closure starting Tuesday, in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

For Islamabad, the government announced the launch of a mobile application aimed at providing essential items, and services to the citizens at their doorstep, according to a statement from the Prime Minister Office.

New death

On Tuesday, Pakistan reported another death from the coronavirus in the southeastern city of Lahore, that raised the total tally to seven in the country.

"Unfortunately, a #COVID19 Patient Afrasiyab, aged 57, who was admitted in Mayo Hospital, lost his life today. These are indeed difficult times for the whole country. Only way we can fight this pandemic is by staying indoors and following the precautionary measures," Yasmin Rashid, health minister in Punjab province said on Twitter.

According to the country’s Health Ministry, the confirmed number of coronavirus cases reached 892, while six patients have been recovered so far. 

Global situation 

The virus first emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 169 countries and territories.

The global death toll from the virus has exceeded 18,200, with more than 409,000 cases confirmed worldwide, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most people who get infected suffer mild symptoms and recover.

China, Italy, Iran and Spain continue to be the worst-affected countries.

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