The Senate Standing Committee on Interior in its emergency meeting on Thursday expressed grave concerns over the confirmation of the first two cases of Coronavirus in Pakistan, declared it as ‘National Security Hazard’ and asked the government to devise Anti-Coronavirus National Action Plan to battle this deadly epidemic.
At the start of the meeting Senator A. Rehman Malik said that he took suo-moto notice into the matter during the visit yesterday to Quetta after assessing the growing danger of Coronavirus in the country. The Committee discussed in detail the measures taken both by Ministry of Interior and National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination to curb the potential spread of the Coronavirus in Pakistan.
Senator A. Rehman Malik said that the breakout of coronavirus should be declared as a national security threat and should be fought on war footing. He added that according to WHO such diseases are national security threats, hence, immediate measures should be adopted and he ordered the opening of auditable accounts to raise public funds to fight this virus.
Directions by the Chairman Committee
The Chairman Committee, Senator A. Rehman Malik gave following directions in the meeting to the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health:
- The Chairman Committee directed to formulate a common counter strategy under Anti-Coronavirus National Action Plan to combat this deadly disease. He said that it is a national adversity and we all have to work unitedly above our political differences and affiliations to cope up with this national hazard.
- He expressed his concern over the inadequate arrangement at airports, seaports, other entry points and even hospitals to control the epidemic. The Chairman Committee said that keeping in view the spread of Coronavirus, the government should have placed proper arrangement at all airports, seaports and entry points for the screening of all those entering Pakistan.
- Pakistanis in hundreds have entered from Iran and other affected countries in last few days and went unchecked for Coronavirus. He directed the Ministry of Interior to identify those 7500 pilgrims who were visiting Iran for pilgrimage and have returned Pakistan in last few weeks, added the Chairman Committee.
- He appealed all those pilgrimages who have returned from Iran to volunteer themselves for proper screening and medical check-up which is in best interest of them, their families and country as a whole.
- Rehman Malik directed that the families of all Pakistanis returned from Iran and other affected countries must be quarantined for 14 days and they shall be provided with free food and medicine on government expenses. He directed those who are diagnosed with the virus, their family members must be tested and be quarantined.
- He directed the Ministry of Interior to constitute a Ministerial Core Committee to trace, identify and ensure proper medical checkup / screening of those 7500 Pakistani Pilgrims returned from Iran and also their families.
- It was recommended to set up a fund to battle this menace; and in this regard an account must be set-up within 24 hours and be made public for donations.
- The Chairman Committee asserted that when dealing with such patients, all international SOPs for Isolation must be followed to the dot and recommended that a dedicated facility to house such patients away from hospitals and population to protect other patients and public. He asserted that test facilities must be made available at all hospitals within 24 hours.
Provision of Masks at Airports and Hotels:
The Chairman Committee said that he himself witnessed officials working at airports without wearing masks and other precautionary measures and on inquiry he was told that they were not provided with masks.
He directed the National Institute of Health to urgently provide 500 N-95 masks to the officials/staff of Airport Security Force, FIA and other law enforcement agencies deployed at airports and make it mandatory as part of their uniform.
Furthermore, he stated that Ministry of Health and FIA to depute and facilitate the designated medical staff at all exit and entry points across the country. The Chairman Committee directed the Health Ministry to ensure the anti-Coronavirus arrangement and availability of N-95 masks for the doctors and paramedical staff in all hospitals.
Rehman Malik also directed for thorough vigilance at all exit/entry points at Afghanistan and Iran borders. He directed that emergency must be declared at Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders.
CPEC and Pakistani Students in China:
Rehman Malik tasked the Ministry of Interior to take all the measures for the safe return of Pakistan students stranded in different cities of China within 15 days in coordination with the Chinese government. He said that many stranded students have contacted him and their parents are continuously urging for safe return of their children.
On the Price Hike of Masks:
Senator A. Rehman Malik also took serious notice of increase in mask prices and directed a crackdown on such elements involved in price hike/black marketing of surgical masks taking advantage of national calamity. He asserted that this trend must be curbed so that masks and medication are made accessible to the masses.
He directed a complete ban on the export of masks, accessories and medicines used in the diagnoses and treatment of coronavirus.
Furthermore he said that the import of all accessories and medication for Coronavirus treatment and diagnoses shall be exempted from custom for the use in government hospitals and institutions.
Plan for Islamabad to deal with the Crisis:
The Chairman Committee directed Chief Commissioner ICT that all possible measures must be taken to control the situation in the Federal Capital. Since the identification of one person in Islamabad has put numerous lives at risk in the Capital.
Isolation Wards in Islamabad:
The Chairman Committee directed that an “Isolation Ward” must be established in Islamabad. The Chief Commissioner assured the Committee that it will liaison with the Ministry of Health and support it in all its efforts to curb the spread of the virus. However, budget for the Isolation ward can only be assured by the Cabinet.
A report on the situation and required budget with proposals must be submitted to the Committee in the next meeting scheduled to be held on the 4 March, 2020, he added.
Directions to PEMRA:
He also urged the media to avoid sensationalism and spread awareness about the Coronavirus among masses. The Chairman Committee directed PEMRA to ensure that awareness material produced by the Ministry of Health must be disseminated to all channels making it mandatory for airing.
He said that across the country health emergency must be declared and PTA must direct all service providers to issue one to two-line messages in local languages to spread awareness on preventive measures to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. He also directed PTV and Radio Pakistan to launch awareness campaigns about Coronavirus.
The Chairman Committee, Senator A. Rehman Malik lauded the efforts of the Ministry and the Minister of State for National Health Services and Regulation and Coordination, Dr. Zafar Mirza. He stated that the Parliament stands with the Government in this hour of national calamity. I