Pakistan's spike in coronavirus cases raises quarantine concerns
Some of those quarantined after returning from Iran question lack of doctors, hygiene issues at camp.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has recorded its biggest single-day spike in coronavirus infections, taking the tally to 107, amid reports of ineffective quarantine procedures as 61 of those are reported to be among those who had been held at a quarantine camp at the country’s Taftan border crossing with Iran.
No deaths due to the coronavirus have been recorded, according to government data.
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“[The spike in cases] was mainly because of the people who came from Taftan. They had been quarantined there, and then we moved them to our own facility where we tested them,” said Meeran Yousuf, spokesperson for Sindh province’s health minister.
People currently in the Taftan camp told Al Jazeera they were not being adequately screened for coronavirus or treated for existing conditions. They also complained of squalid living conditions at the facility, which is housing hundreds of people.
Under current procedures, those released from the camp are being held for a further 14 days in their home provinces in separate quarantine facilities, where they will be tested if they display symptoms of the virus, Yousuf told Al Jazeera.
A provincial government spokesperson in Balochistan, where Taftan is, denied the claims that conditions were inadequate at the camp, and said staff were constantly monitoring those in quarantine for symptoms.
“The World Health Organization protocol calls for a 14-day mandatory quarantine,” said Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani. “People can still develop symptoms after 14 days, or even 28 days. It differs from case to case.”
‘Five people to a tent’
“We are sleeping in tents, with up to five people to a tent because there is a shortage of space here,” said Amir Ali, 26, a travel agent who was brought to Taftan camp on March 3.
“There are not enough bathrooms or enough water. The system for screening is not as they claim. They are not giving us all these medicines.”
Ali shared videos from the camp that showed rows of tents, basic bathroom facilities and some people forced to sleep in close quarters on the floor of the town’s main government building.
The videos also show rubbish littering the ground between the tents.
Since last month, more than 4,600 people have been held at the quarantine camp, Shahwani said. Of those, 1,822 had been released to their home districts on Friday, while several hundred remain at the camp, government data shows.
The 61 cases recorded in Sindh province were among the 1,822 people who were cleared last week.
Ali said medical services were inadequate at the camp.
“They used the thermometer on us the first day [of arrival from Iran]. Since then, they have not checked us at all,” he said.
“There is no one available here to provide treatment if people have symptoms or any other illnesses.”
Others at the quarantine camp echoed Ali’s concerns.
“The conditions here are so filthy that if a person spends a few days here, even if they are healthy, they will get the corona [virus],” said Fatima Bibi, in a video recording shared with Al Jazeera.
“We are requesting the government to please take us away from this place as quickly as possible.”
Bibi said the toilets were not properly maintained, and they smelled “so bad you feel like vomiting”.
Others lamented the lack of medical facilities at the camp.
“There are no doctors here,” said Khanum Jan, who had been in the camp for nine days. “There are no beds or blankets.”
Balochistan government spokesperson Shahwani said the government was doing the best it could with limited resources.
“It’s a desert area. It’s far away,” he said. “We are doing our level best.”
On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the country’s national coordination committee on COVID-19. No major announcements were made following the meeting.
Last week, after a high-level national security committee meeting, Pakistan’s government announced the closure of all educational institutions across the country until April 3, the closure of all border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan and a ban on all public gatherings of any kind.
Since February, Pakistan has screened more than 975,634 people at points of entry, according to government data.
The country’s National Institute of Health says its current risk assessment of the impact of the disease is “moderate”.
Ali said he feared cases could rise, as those released from the quarantine camp “are not being screened”.
“The increase in cases that is happening, this is only happening because of their incompetence,” he alleged.
“When there were thousands of people here [in Taftan last week], people were sleeping within four inches of each other.”
Additional reporting by Saadullah Akhtar in Quetta, Pakistan.
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