Via Financial Times

Pakistan coronavirus cases rise sharply to 450

Farhan Bokhari reports from Islamabad

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan shot up to more than 450 with three deaths, prompting urgent calls for the country to intensify its response to the outbreak.

Saturday’s toll is more than five times the number of cases reported just a week ago, according to senior government and health officials.

The sharp increase has been largely attributed to Muslim pilgrims who returned from Iran, according to one senior government official in the south-western city of Quetta.

“It took us time to enforce strict quarantine facilities at Taftan,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s main border crossing along the Iranian border.

In Taftan, many pilgrims were kept quarantined in dirty camps, crammed together in tents with little access to facilities, a situation that has underlined the country’s lack of resources to deal with the crisis.

Health officials have said many of those who traveled to Iran have eventually returned to parts of the southern Sindh province, the region home to more than half of Pakistan’s confirmed cases.

Prime minister Imran Khan’s government has ordered the closure of all schools and colleges until early April and delayed high school examinations.

On Friday, a leading businessman told the FT that the outbreak has had “a devastating impact on Pakistan just at the wrong time” as the country is in the middle of a $6bn IMF lending programme that started in 2019.

On Tuesday, the central bank’s decision to lower interest rates by 75 basis points to 12.5 per cent disappointed many business people who wanted significantly larger cuts.

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“We are in a state of war. Pakistan needs to fight this war as it should be fought” said the businessman.