ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The federal government on Saturday, while urging the nation to practice “social distancing” on the long weekend to avoid transmission of COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed 534 (some news websites have claimed that Pakistan’s Covid-19 tally crossed 700 with Sindh accounting for more than 50 per cent cases) coronavirus positive cases out of 4,046 suspected cases in Pakistan. Special Assistant on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza said this, while addressing a press conference here along with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairperson Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal, and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division Dr Moeed Yusuf.

Dr Mirza said, “I am very hopeful, if we practice social distancing, we will be able to control [the spread of] COVID-19.” Talking about the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan, he said out of 4046 suspected cases, 534 were confirmed: 10 in Islamabad, Punjab (104), Sindh (259), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (27), Balochistan (103), Gilgit-Baltistan (30) and AJK (one).

Dr Yusuf said that the government has decided to suspend all international flight operations for two weeks amid fear of coronavirus spread in the country.

He said the restriction on flights will be effective from 8pm (Saturday) and it will continue till 4th of the next month.

Dr Yusuf, however, said the flights carrying diplomats and cargo ships will continue their operations during the said period.

In his remarks, NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal expressed the confidence that the nation and the civil and military leadership will win the fight against COVID-19 through joint efforts.

Lieutenant General Afzal said 20,000 testing kits have arrived from China. These were handed over to the National Institute of Health (NIH), he added.

He said China will provide 100 ventilators to Pakistan in the coming days.

Dr Mirza said that the government had decided to chalk out a mechanism for sharing and exchanging information between the federal and the provincial governments about coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Mirza further said that all provinces of the country now have laboratories where coronavirus tests can be done.

He said the number of laboratories will be further increased.

Dr Mirza said the National Coordination Committee (NCC) has been constituted firstly to collect data and brief the nation about the national emergency.

Secondly, the NCC will deliver messages though media to raise awareness and brief about the government’s actions to prevent the transmission of virus as well as to strengthen coordination between the provinces and the federal government, he said.

Thirdly, purpose of constituting a committee was procurement of masks, ventilators, and protective gears to enhance the capacity to fight the virus, Dr Mirza said.

Protection of our frontline doctors treating infected people is government’s foremost priority, said Dr Mirza, adding the NCC will deliver a univocal message to the nation using information technology.

He said coronavirus has reached 186 countries and affected 0.27 million people whereas, 11,431 people died because of the infection, but the good news is that 92,000 had completely recovered.

He said three people died in Pakistan because of the virus, and so far five people have completely recovered, and many more would recover in the coming days and would be discharged from hospitals.

Dr Mirza said that at all entry points 13,991 people were scanned in the last 24 hours and 1.4 million people had been screened so far at entry points so far in total.

He said, in between 28 February and 17 March, 6,304 people entered Pakistan from Iran out of which 2,421 hailed from Balochistan, 176 people from KP, 2,012 from Punjab, 1,059 from Sindh, 14 from AJK, and 523 from GB.

It was decided to quarantine all the returnees from Iran at Taftan, and now the provinces were doing it again, said Dr Mirza, adding that 3,378 people are in quarantine facilities in various provinces at the moment.

He said the government of Pakistan has established 14 labs so far in all four provinces for testing coronavirus and more labs would be established soon.

PIA: The government has directed the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) to suspend its international operations till April 4.

The government is pondering over extending the suspension to domestic flights as well.

A PIA spokesman in a statement confirmed that the decision was made under government’s directives, and it became effective at 8pm (Saturday) March 21, suspending all international operations till April 4.

Meanwhile, sources said that the expected loss of revenue of the airline was Rs3.93 billion till the end of March when it operated the UAE sector at only 40 percent of the normal schedule and the rest of the international sector at 75 percent of the normal schedule besides the suspension of flights to Saudi Arabia, China, Doha, Kuwait and Italy. After complete suspension of its operations for a week, the airline would suffer a loss of an additional revenue of Rs211 million, added the sources.

The national flag carrier had reported net revenue amounting to Rs144 billion in its un-audited and unconsolidated profit and loss report for 2019, and out of the total net revenue, 65 percent (Rs93.6 billion) was generated only from Saudi Arabia and UK sectors, which meant that the airline earned Rs7.8 billion approximately per month from these two sectors.

The airline, which is already carrying Rs17 billion loss for 2019, will have to soak up additional financial loss of Rs12 billion per month in case of complete international flights suspension, sources said and added that if the current lockdown continues for next two months the aggregated loss would surpass Rs50 billion, dragging the airline towards closure.

Replying to a question, sources said PIA, which had now started facing difficulties to pay salaries to its 11,700 employees, would definitely seek a bailout package from government in case of current lockdown extended for next two months.