150 pilgrims enter Pakistan as authorities reopen border with Iran

F.P. Report

QUETTA: Pakistan on Friday temporarily reopened its border with the neighbouring Iran allowing pilgrims to cross into Pakistan after strict screening at Taftan border in Balochistan.

Around 150 stranded pilgrims were shifted to Pakistan House in Taftan and will be allowed to go home after screening.

According to Balochistan government, there is no suspected coronavirus patient in the province, adding that 5000 pilgrims were present at the Iranian border which were being shifted to Pakistan House in phases.

The provincial ministers said that as many as 273 pilgrims are present at the Taftan Quarantine Center, adding that everyone except the opposition is on the same page in the province.

Pakistan has detected its first two cases of novel coronavirus, a public health advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted Wednesday, days after Islamabad closed its land border with Iran, where 19 people have died from the virus.

Health adviser Zafar Mirza in his tweet said, “I can confirm first two cases of corona virus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable. No need to panic, things are under control.”

On Thursday, Pakistan shut schools in several areas and suspended flights to and from Iran to try to stop the spread of new coronavirus, after reporting its first cases of the infection.

The South Asian nation bordering China and Iran, both of which have been hit hard by the virus, reported its first two cases on Wednesday.

Both people had recently traveled to Iran as part of large groups of pilgrims from Pakistan’s Shia Muslim community.Health officials have said both were “stable.”

Authorities shut schools in the southern province of Sindh, including the country’s largest city Karachi where the first case was reported, and the southwestern province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran. They also began to trace nearly 8,000 pilgrims who recently returned to the country from Iran.

On February 24, Pakistan had closed its border with Iran after Tehran reported casualties from the deadly coronavirus.

Islamabad had suspended trade activities and its citizens traveling to Iran through the five existing border gates.

Local Pakistani authorities said the border town of Taftan, Balochistan was quarantined for coronavirus screening, while a 100-bed tent hospital was set up in the area for pilgrims coming back from Iran, the state-run media added.

“The government is in close contact with Iranian authorities to save Pakistani zaireen [pilgrims] from coronavirus,” Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, minister for religious affairs and interfaith harmony, said in a statement.

Qadri added that his ministry deployed a special team in Taftan to protect Pakistani pilgrims returning from Iran from coronavirus.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended flights to Beijing and Tokyo till March 15 due to death from coronavirus, the flag carrier’s spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

With porous borders, creaking hospitals and large illiterate populations, Pakistan faces a potentially devastating health crisis from the new coronavirus.

The virus has spread to more than 30 countries, killing over 2,700 and infecting 80,000, mostly in China. But new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia have fanned fears of the contagion taking hold in poor nations which lack the healthcare infrastructure to cope.

There are growing fears in Pakistan over how the country would deal with the outbreak. Islamabad has a history of failing to contain infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Meanwhile Pakistan s neighbour Iran has emerged as a major hotspot, with a total of 139 cases and 19 deaths.

And Afghanistan, which also shares a border with Pakistan, reported its first case of coronavirus on Monday.

While Pakistan has closed land borders with Iran, it has maintained air travel to and from China — increasingly a source of trade and commerce for the country.

“There is a limited concept of prevention unfortunately. I fear it s not well prepared at all for any health emergency,” Pakistani public health expert Arshad Altaf told AFP.

Pakistan this week moved quickly to quarantine at least 270 people near the Iranian border after a group of pilgrims returned and briefly mixed with other residents.

Ziaullah Langove, home minister in southwestern Balochistan province, said there were nearly 10,000 Pakistanis still in Iran, mostly students and pilgrims that Iranian officials were planning to send back in small groups.