A doctor speaks with her colleagues wearing protective gear in a train coach prepared as a temporary quarantine facility at the Rawalpindi Railway Station. AFP
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has given a nod to turning three- and four-star hotels into quarantine centres where the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has planned to keep coronavirus patients.
Last month the NDMA proposed to the government that the hotels in all major cities across Pakistan be converted into quarantine centres for suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases. Later with the federal government consent, the NDMA also issued directives to the management of different hotels on March 16 and March 28, to vacate the premises for the purpose.
The NDMA order to vacate the hotels was, however, challenged by three-star Hotel Margalla, situated in Islamabad, through Advocate Sikandar Bashir Mohmand.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed that the federal government had taken several measures to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. The measures taken by the federal government and the NDMA were obviously to safeguard the public at large and their fundamental rights.
The chief justice observed that since it was an extraordinary situation and it was settled law that the interest of public at large prevailed over individual rights.
The petitioner contended before the court that the NDMA was not authorised to take such a decision and the government should utilise the places it owned rather than turning private properties into quarantine centres. "Why does the government not use the prime minister’s home instead?” said the petitioner.
Justice Minallah observed: "The government is taking measures for the protection of its people. How can the court interfere then? When it comes to protecting the people, the government can even use my home.”
The petitioner’s lawyer, however, argued that the fundamental rights could not be suspended even if a constitutional emergency had been invoked.
The lawyer said hotel staff had been sent on leave since March 28 for an indefinite period due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Justice Minallah suggested that if the petitioner believed the decision would cause damage to hotels, he could make a claim later on.
"I am appealing to the people to stay at home. We have to keep ourselves and our children safe," Murad Ali Shah was quoted as saying while presiding over the coronavirus task force meeting on Friday.
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.
"It has been decided that all borders will remain closed for 15 days," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the local ARY and Dunya TV networks. "International flights will operate only out of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports," he said.
The Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai, derailed and fell on the opposite track, with many people still trapped, the reports said.
Sheikh Mohammed added in a tweet on Twitter: "We found its executive director at the service counters, receiving customers, speeding up procedures, and contributing to clearing transactions. The secret shopper assured us that providing the service did not exceed five minutes."
The first lady arrived in Cairo from Amman, where she attended the wedding of Crown Prince Hussein. She is travelling to Morocco on Saturday before heading to Portugal, the final stop of her tour, on Monday.