Pak’s coronavirus cases rise to over 900; Railways suspend passenger trains

Islamabad:Pakistan’s coronavirus cases rose to over 900 on Tuesday as the government suspended all passenger train operations through the country till March 31 and deployed army to assist the civil administration to enforce a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus outbreak.

Punjab province on Tuesday reported its first coronavirus death, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to seven.

The deceased was identified as a 57-year-old patient who was under treatment at Mayo Hospital in Lahore, Dawn reported, quoting provincial health department official Qaiser Asif.

Punjab has reported 16 new cases, taking the provincial tally to 265, Asif added.

Of the total 903 cases reported till Tuesday, worst-hit Sindh province accounted for with 394 cases, Balochistan 110, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 38, Islamabad 15 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 81.

Pakistan Railways on Tuesday suspended the operations of all passenger trains until March 31 due to the virus outbreak.

Passengers will be accommodated after the service resumes, according to a notification by the department.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to take drastic steps to contain the spread of the virus and tackle its financial impact on the economy and the poor people.

Shehbaz, who returned from London over the weekend after four months, urged the government to reduce interest rates by 3-4 per cent, give monthly stipends to poor people, double salaries of doctors and paramedics, reduce oil prices and cooperate with opposition to control the threat.

“The reduction in interest rates will provide around Rs 80 billion to the government which it can use to deal with the coronavirus,” he said in his first presser via video since returning from London.

He said other governments in the world were spending large amounts to save economy and Pakistan should also do so.

On Monday, the Pakistan Army deployed its “all available troops and medical resources” across the country to assist the civil administration to enforce the nationwide lockdown and perform other duties.

“Army will assist federal and provincial governments in their respective plans to deal with COVID-19,” Army spokesman Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said.

“The task at hand is enormous and very difficult,” Iftikhar said. He called the threat of the coronavirus one that “we haven’t seen in our lifetime.”

The decision to deploy army was taken as police faced problems in enforcing the strict measures to keep people indoors after all provincial governments announced complete or partial lockdown.

There was complete lockdown in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was observing partial lockdown.

In several cities, roads wore a deserted look as the security forces put up containers on the main roads and in lanes to block traffic.

Sindh Information Minister Nasir Shah warned that curfew would be imposed if people failed to observe the lockdown.

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