ISLAMABAD – Pakistan called in troops Monday to assist civilian authorities across the country in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as the national tally of cases soared to at least 900.
The pandemic has killed more than six patients since the South Asian nation of about 220 million people reported its first COVID-19 case a month ago.
Military spokesman Major Gen. Babar Iftikhar said Monday that under government instructions, the army chief has ordered the deployment of all available troops and medical resources to help in preventing the spread of the deadly virus.
Military to provide medical resources
He stressed troops will ensure government directives are effectively implemented.
“This will, however, only be possible through self-discipline and cooperation. The best defense against the coronavirus is cooperation,” the general stressed.
Pakistan says a majority of those infected with COVID-19 are Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims, who recently returned from homage to religious sites in Iran, where the death toll from the pandemic has surged past 1,800 and more than 23,000 cases.
Pakistani nationals who recently came back from other countries such as Syria, Iraq, Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia have also imported the virus, say officials.
Lockdown to last two weeks
The southern Sindh province, where around half of the coronavirus cases have been reported, spent its first day under a total lockdown Monday that is to remain in place for two weeks.
Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, with at least 250 cases of infection, also announced a 14-day lockdown starting Tuesday, with all public places, parks, malls and restaurants to remain closed to stem the spread of the virus.
Pakistan has also sealed its borders with Afghanistan, Iran, India and China to stop the spread of the disease in the region.
“The country’s borders have been closed as a preventive measure but the actual border facing us now is between the man and the coronavirus that we all have to overcome with collective efforts,” General Iftikhar emphasized.
Prime Minister Imran Khan last week ordered closure of educational institutions, banned gatherings at public places and wedding parties for three weeks, and halted all international flights to and from Pakistan until April 5.
But Khan has resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown, saying such a move could put at risk millions of lives of working class and poverty-stricken families in the country. He has repeatedly urged Pakistanis to stay at home voluntarily.
The outbreak of coronavirus also forced Islamabad to postpone its national day military parade in commemoration of the March 23,1940 resolution that led to Pakistan’s independence in 1947.