Pakistan closes border with Iran amid coronavirus fears

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ISLAMABAD: The government of Pakistan Sunday imposed emergency in all of the districts of Balochistan province sharing border with Iran with immediate effect and closed the border at Taftan after five coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighbouring country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan called up Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan on Saturday and discussed with him the coronavirus spread in Iran and its implications for the border province. Kamal informed the prime minister that he is personally overseeing the government efforts to prevent the deadly infestation from seeping into Balochistan. The prime minister asked Kamal to take all protective measures in the province along the porous border with Iran.
The provincial government has reportedly banned Pakistani pilgrims from traveling to Iran. At least a hundred pilgrims were called back to Quetta from the Taftan border while special check posts have been established to monitor movement.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani has also directed the provincial disaster management authority to establish a 100-bed tent hospital at the Pak-Iran border crossing in Taftan to cope with an emergency situation.
A senior officer of local administration said the screening of those pilgrims staying at Pakistan House has been started. He added that preparations for setting up 100-bed tents in Taftan have also started and a special team of doctors of the National Institute of Health (NIH) has arrived from Islamabad.
Official sources said the provincial health department has established an emergency centre and a control room at the bordering town of Taftan. “Two doctors are already working at the control room at Taftan,” said an official of the health department, adding that a team of seven doctors equipped with thermal guns had been deployed in the town to carry out screening of pilgrims and other people crossing into Pakistan from Iran.
So far, Pakistan has not reported a single coronavirus case.
Meanwhile, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri spoke to Iranian authorities about measures being taken to protect pilgrims from coronavirus. A statement by the Religious Affairs Ministry said that Haq is also in touch with religious scholars and tour groups in order to design a policy to protect the pilgrims from the disease.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza also reached out to the Balochistan chief minister and assured all help and cooperation to the provincial government.
On Saturday, Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centers across 14 provinces from Sunday following four deaths in the Islamic Republic – the most outside East Asia and the first in the Middle East. They include the holy city of Qom where the first cases emerged as well as Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran.
Posters were also being put up across the sprawling city on Sunday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign. Iran’s outbreak surfaced on Wednesday and has quickly worsened with 28 cases confirmed.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused foreign media of trying to use a deadly outbreak of coronavirus in Iran to “discourage” people from voting in a general election.
“This negative propaganda began a few months ago and grew larger approaching the election and in the past two days, under the pretext of an illness and a virus, their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting,” said Khamenei.
“(Our enemies) are even opposed to any election by the Iranian people,” the leader was quoted as saying on his official website.
The COVID-19 outbreak has claimed the lives of five people in the Islamic republic since Wednesday. They were the first deaths in the Middle East.
China reported another 97 deaths in its daily update on Sunday, taking its total to 2,442, plus another 648 new infections. Nearly 80,000 infections have been reported worldwide.
The vast majority of Chinese deaths and new infections remained concentrated in the hard-hit city of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have first emanated from a live animal market in December. – TLTP