Coronavirus cases in Pakistan go past 1,000 but national lockdown still not at sight

Pakistan announced halting of domestic flight operations after number of cases infected with coronavirus disease Covid-19 rose to 1000 in the country. The government said that seven people have died of the disease.

The domestic flight ban will begin on Thursday, civil aviation spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar said on Wednesday. Islamabad had previously cut train service and international flights.

Initially, most of those infected were Pakistani pilgrims returning from neighboring hard-hit Iran, which has seen the Middle East’s worst outbreak of the virus. Now, the virus is being reported in people with no travel history, officials say.

More than 400 of the infected people are in the southern province of Sindh. The eastern province of Punjab has the second highest number of cases (296), the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 78 cases, Balochistan has 110, while capital Islamabad has 15, as per media reports.

The Sindh provincial government has imposed a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, but Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he will not impose a country-wide lockdown and urged people to go in self-quarantine to fight the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

Khan said that the impact of a countrywide curfew on Pakistan’s economy would be immense.

“Twenty-five percent of the population of our country lives under the poverty line. Putting the country under lockdown would mean that my daily-wage workers, street vendors, small shop-owners would be locked inside their homes. How would they earn then?” he said in his address to the nation.

Meanwhile, Pakistan wants the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (Saarc) Covid-19 Emergency Fund to be administered by the bloc’s secretary general and is seeking clarity about its utilisation.

The fund was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Saarc leaders’ March 15 video conference on coronavirus pandemic and pledged $10 million for it.

The emergency fund is meant to assist countries in the region to deal with the pandemic. However, nothing was said about the administration of the fund and modalities for its utilisation.

All countries in the regional bloc, except Pakistan, have announced their pledges for the fund, which now cumulatively stands at $18.8 million. Besides India, other pledged contributions include Sri Lanka’s $5m, Bangladesh’s $1.5m, Nepal and Afghanistan’s $1m each, the Maldives’ $0.2m and Bhutan’s $0.1m.