The Pakistani authorities have closed all schools and borders while shortening the national cricket league amid growing concern over the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands in neighboring China and Iran.
“In a meeting of the National Security Committee presided over [by] PM Imran Khan, it has been decided to close all educational institutions in the country till April 5,” Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood tweeted about the decisions made by the country's civilian and military authorities on March 13. “This includes all schools and universities, public and private, vocational institutions and madaris [Islamic schools].”
The national closure came after the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed the southern province of Sindh and southwestern Balochistan Province in announcing the closure of all schools on March 13. The latter two provinces had closed schools late last month after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Pakistan.
Pakistan has so far registered only 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But authorities have tested few people among the country's population of more than 210 million. Islamabad announced its first locally contracted case on March 13.
Among more than 137,000 confirmed cases globally, COVID-19 has killed more than 5,000 people. A majority of these fatalities were recorded in China and Iran, where COVID-19 has killed more than 3,500 people. The two countries border Pakistan to the northwest and south and have significant trade and cultural ties with Islamabad.
Earlier officials in Balochistan told Radio Mashaal that they had quarantined more than 4,000 people arriving from Iran. Islamabad has closed its southwestern Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan. The Torhkam border crossing in northwestern Pakistan with eastern Afghanistan has been opened after screening equipment was installed and public health professionals were posted to screen people for COVID-19 symptoms.
The Pakistani military has also canceled a major parade scheduled for Republic Day on March 23.
Coronavirus fears have prompted authorities to shorten the country’s cricket league. On March 12, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League will be played without spectators and the tournament will end on March 18, four days ahead of its scheduled final on March 22.
"All players and support personnel have been given the option to withdraw from the PSL 2020 should they wish to do so," the PCB said in a statement. Nearly a dozen foreign players from England, South Africa, and the West Indies have already withdrawn from the tournament.
Meanwhile, organizers of a large religious congregation that had reportedly attracted more than 100,000 participants in eastern Pakistan have cut short the event.
On March 13, Ehsanullah, a spokesman for Tablighi Jamaat who goes by one name only, said most of the participants went home after they announced cutting the five-day event short late on March 12. The gathering, called Tablighi Ijtima, was scheduled to end on March 16. Still tens of thousands of its members remain in Raiwind, a suburb of the eastern city of Lahore.
-- With reporting by the AP and AFP