Pakistani officials announced Wednesday the country’s first two confirmed fatalities due to the novel coronavirus, after two men died in the north of the country.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the health minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
The first patient, a 50-year-old man, died in a hospital in Mardan district near Peshawar after visiting Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
“It’s the first death from coronavirus in (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and sadly in the country too,” Jhagra said, noting the patient’s family had been placed in quarantine.
Jhagra also announced the death of a 36-year-old man old from Hangu district. “He arrived from Turkey via Dubai … he tested positive on March 17 and died today in the hospital,” Jhagra said.
As of Wednesday, Pakistan had tested at least 1,621 people for COVID-19, with more than 250 positive cases.
Observers fear the disease could spread quickly in the country of 215 million people, where health care is frequently inadequate.
Pakistan’s porous borders, creaking hospitals, culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.
To prevent the virus’s transmission Islamabad has ordered both the Afghan and Iranian borders sealed, wedding halls shuttered, and schools closed across the country for the remainder of the month.
However large public gatherings, including Friday prayers, have not been cancelled and malls and markets remain open.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday that Pakistan cannot afford the type of urban lockdowns currently underway in the West.
Pakistan has a history of failing to contain infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis.
Adding to the challenge, hundreds of thousands of quack doctors are reportedly active across the country, and scandals involving the use of dirty needles in health care settings have eroded public trust in the system.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk