Baluchistan’s Response to Coronavirus

On February 22, 2020, the Baluchistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal announced that he had spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Federal Health Minister regarding the possible spread of coronavirus in Baluchistan following the deaths caused in neighboring Iran due to the deadly virus. Dawn reported that the Baluchistan government had declared a state of emergency in all of its towns bordering Iran.

The government and the opposition are equally concerned about the possible spread of coronavirus in Baluchistan, which, as pointed out by Sanaullah Baloch, a member of the Baluchistan Assembly, shares a 1000 kilometer-long border with Iran. Mr. Baloch, who represents the Baluchistan National Party in the provincial assembly, warned of catastrophic consequences if the government does not take timely measures to ensure an adequate response to this situation.

As an initial response, the Baluchistan government has dispatched a team of seven doctors equipped with thermal guns in the bordering area of Taftan. This team will screen [mainly Shia] pilgrims and other people crossing into Pakistan from Iran. Dawn, while citing a health department official, reported that the government had established an emergency centre and a control room in Taftan.

Coronavirus in Baluchistan: A Timeline

  • March 10, 2020
  • Balochistan confirmed its first Coronavirus patient, a 12-year old boy from the Sindh province with a history of traveling to Iran. The case was tested positive in Quetta.
  • February 23, 2020
  • A Baluchistan government spokesperson says 5000 Pakistani pilgrims currently stranded in Iran will return in March while no Pakistani citizens will be allowed to travel to Iran until the crisis ends.
  • Pakistan temporarily closes its border with Iran at Taftan.
  • CM Kamal orders the provincial disaster management authority to establish a 100-bed tent hospital in Taftan.
  • A team of doctors arrives from Islamabad to help set up the 100-bed tent hospital in Taftan.
  • Baluchistan bans pilgrims from traveling to Iran; recalls hundreds from Taftan.
  • Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri speaks to the Iranian authorities; recommends designing a policy to protect the pilgrims from the disease.
  • Pakistan starts screening pilgrims staying at the Pakistan House
  • Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza says in a meeting in Islamabad that the government is equipped to deal with any coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani issues a five-point directive to prevent the spread of the virus in Pakistan.
  • February 22, 2020
  • Prime Minister Khan and Baluchistan CM Kamal discuss options to stop the virus from entering the country

Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, has contacted CM Kamal, assuring the provincial government of all help from the central government during this alarming situation.

The Iranian Consulate in Quetta has brushed aside the reports that it has shut down the border with Pakistan. The Independent Urdu quoted General Mohammad Rafi, the Iranian Consul General stationed in Quetta, as saying that Iran’s road routes are still open for Pakistani citizens, businessmen, tourists, pilgrims and border officials.

Update: Pakistani officials, on the contrary, announced that they were actually closing down the border with Iran.

Our Take
It is an open secret that Baluchistan is Pakistan’s most backward province in the realm of public health, and it cannot solely handle a crisis so dire that has brought even a superpower like China to its knees. The government and the opposition at the provincial level must sink their differences and work jointly to do whatever they can to effectively deal with this crisis in a dignified manner. The federal government and the national media, which are unfortunately notorious for not paying ample timely attention to Baluchistan and its needs, must realize the sensitivity of this crisis and extend whatever help the province needs to grapple with this looming crisis.

Categories: News & Analysis

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