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Pak suspends PIA operations, curtails train services as coronavirus cases cross 500

Press Trust of India  |  Islamabad 

Pakistan on Saturday suspended the operations of it national flag-carrier PIA and curtailed train services as the coronavirus cases surged to 510 in the country after more pilgrims who returned from Iran tested positive for the deadly virus, which has turned into a major global crisis.

The measures came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan ruled out total lockdown but asked people to reduce unnecessary travel and go for self-quarantine for at least another 45 days to help tackle the coronavirus crisis which has killed over 11,000 people and infected 250,000 worldwide.

Pakistan International Airline (PIA) said that its air operation will remain suspended from March 21 to 28 while Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad ordered to reduce the number of trains running in the country from March 25 until the middle holy month of Ramadan, which would start around April 25.

We have decided to suspend 34 trains out of total 142 running in the country while another eigh trains will be suspended from April 1, he said.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the government might also close down all international air operations to Pakistan for all airlines.

The total number of COVID-19 patients in the country rose to 510 with 267 cases in Sindh; 92 in Balochistan; 96 in Punjab; 23 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; 21 in Gilgit-Baltistan; 10 in Islamabad; and one in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In the worst-affected Sindh province, 15 new cases were reported on Saturday, the provincial health minister said.

So far three patients have died in Pakistan while five have recovered.

Pakistan reported the third casualty from the virus in Karachi on Friday, two days after two men both pilgrims returning from Iran and Saudi Arabia died of the coronavirus in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The 70-year-old who died in Karachi was a cancer survivor. He had other medical problems like hypertension and diabetes but did not have any travel or contact history, officials said.

Pakistan, despite its close proximity with China, remained unscathed by the virus until February 26 when a man from Karachi tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Express Tribune reported. The man, in his twenties, had returned from Iran, which is also one of the worst-hit countries.

After a brief pause following the first case, COVID-19 cases witnessed a sharp surge as more pilgrims returning from Iran tested positive despite the fact that they were quarantined for 14 days at the Pak-Iran border crossing of Taftan in Balochistan.

Amid an imminent threat of spread of coronavirus, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ordered the release of under-trial prisoners detained in Rawalpindi's overcrowded Adiala jail in minor crimes and directed the Islamabad police not to make arrest in petty matters, the Dawn reported.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has summoned the first meeting of its Crisis Management Committee on March 24.

The government has exempted import of 61 diagnostic support and personal protective equipment from all duties and taxes for a period of three months in order to reduce the rising prices in the domestic market.

The government has also allowed the use of non-utilised amount of the World Bank-funded projects worth USD 40 million for purchase of COVID-19 equipment.

The provincial government of Balochistan has decided to impose a 21-day partial lockdown across the province to control the spread of highly contagious disease.

Under the lockdown, which is similar to the restrictions imposed by the Sindh government, all major shopping centres, markets and food restaurants will remain closed. However, food delivery will be allowed during the lockdown.

Pakistan Prime Minister Khan while addressing the media in Islamabad on Friday had said the country's strategy is a little different from a complete lockdown, considering Pakistan's socio-economic realities.

Pakistan isn't a rich country like Italy, where people can get through a sustained period without economic activity," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, March 21 2020. 16:24 IST