A worker (L) wearing protective gear disinfects a bus carrying pilgrims returning from the border town of Taftan, leading to a quarantine facility zone, in Sukkur on Wednesday. AFP
Pakistani officials announced the country's first two confirmed fatalities due to the novel coronavirus, after two men died in the north of the country.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
Residents wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 walk on a street in Islamabad. AFP
The first patient, a 50-year-old man, died in a hospital in Mardan district near Peshawar after visiting a Gulf country earlier this month.
"It's the first death from coronavirus in (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and sadly in the country too," Jhagra said, noting the patient's family had been placed in quarantine.
Jhagra also announced the death of a 36-year-old man old from Hangu district.
"He arrived from Turkey via a Gulf country... he tested positive on March 17 and died today in the hospital," Jhagra said.
The 36-year-old patient was brought to the Leady Reading Hospital Peshawar (LRH) on Tuesday night, tested positive for COVID-19 and passed away on Wednesday, Mohammad Asim, spokesman for the hospital told Reuters.
A union council — which reported the first death in Mardan district — has been placed under lockdown by authorities for an indefinite period of time.
"The whole of the union council Manga is declared critical, hence its complete lockdown has been ordered with immediate effect and there shall be no entry and exit,” said an official notification.
A volunteer checks the body temperature of a passenger to help detect coronavirus, at a railway station in Lahore. AP
Meanwhile, in Haripur district, 22 people, including the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) got tested for coronavirus. However, the test results have yet to be received. The individuals have been shifted from Khanpur rest house to other places.
As of Wednesday, Pakistan had tested at least 1,621 people for COVID-19, with more than 250 positive cases.
On Tuesday night, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an address to the nation, urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested.
His comments came amid a growing dispute in Pakistan between federal and provincial authorities, with the latter struggling to secure sufficient coronavirus testing kits and blaming the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine hundreds of Pakistanis who recently returned home across a land border with Iran.
Employees wearing face masks stand at the entrance as customers wait to enter into a bakery next to a sign advising to 'maintain distance' in Islamabad. AFP
Observers fear the disease could spread quickly in the country of 215 million people, where health care is frequently inadequate.
Pakistan's porous borders, creaking hospitals, culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.
To prevent the virus's transmission Islamabad has ordered both the Afghan and Iranian borders sealed, wedding halls shuttered, and schools closed across the country for the remainder of the month.
However large public gatherings, including Friday prayers, have not been cancelled and malls and markets remain open.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
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India has also closed a border with neighbouring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday. No cases have so far been confirmed in Myanmar.
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