Pakistan has suspended all flights to Iran and closed land borders with its neighbor, officials confirmed on Friday, after Islamabad detected its first two coronavirus cases, both people who had recently traveled to the Islamic Republic.
Flights to and from China, the epicenter of the deadly outbreak, and Afghanistan, which also detected its first case this week, were still operating, however, and their land borders with Pakistan were also open.
“Aviation Divison has decided to cease all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran,” civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.
No Pakistani airlines were operating between the two countries, meaning the move hits three Iranian carriers – Iran Air, Mahan Air and Taban Air.
The virus has now killed 2,856 people and infected more than 83,000 worldwide, with an increasing number of new cases being reported each day.
New infections have slowed in China, which has nearly 2,800 deaths out of nearly 79,000 cases.
However Iran has emerged as a new hotspot for the virus, with at least 26 deaths and more than 245 infections so far.
There are growing fears in Pakistan – sandwiched between China and Iran – over how the country would deal with the outbreak.
Its porous borders, creaking hospitals, culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large populations in crowded urban centers mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.
Pakistan’s two cases were detected in the capital Islamabad, and in the teeming port megacity of Karachi, in southern Sindh province.
In Islamabad doctors at the city’s largest public hospital told AFP they had not been provided with masks or other protective gear to treat suspected patients.
While in Karachi, officials said they were scrambling to screen at least 1,500 people who had recently returned from Iran.
The cost of surgical masks was shooting up in the city’s markets, and with schools closed and some people staying inside its notorious traffic had eased.
Authorities this week also moved quickly to quarantine at least 270 people in southwestern Balochistan province, near the Iranian border, after a group of pilgrims returned and briefly mixed with other residents.
“We have set-up an 80-tent quarantine facility at Taftan border, we will bring back Pakistanis in Iran in batches,” said Najeebullah Qambrani, a local official in the town which is one of the main crossings to Iran.
On Friday schools also remained closed in Sindh and Balochistan provinces.