Pakistan has deployed the military to aid civilian authorities in shutting down the country of 220 million to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak as confirmed cases of the potentially deadly disease increased to more than 850.
On March 23, the Interior Ministry authorized the deployment of armed forces to the four provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Troops will also be deployed to the federal capital, Islamabad, and the northern regions of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, in line with provisions of Pakistani supreme law, which allows deploying the military during emergencies.
“The threat we face is very different and the likes of which the world has not seen before,” military spokesman Babar Iftikhar told journalists on March 23. “I want to request you to cooperate with the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, and the government.”
In a statement released late on March 22, the military’s media office announced that all available troops of the Pakistani Army and its medical resources across the country have been tasked with assisting the civilian authorities combat the coronavirus outbreak.
"Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation. Pakistan Army being part of a national effort shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty,” army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was quoted as saying by the statement.
Army and paramilitary troops were already on the streets in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh Province, where a lockdown begin early on March 23. Regional governments across Pakistan have ordered businesses, schools, cinemas, and other places where people can congregate to close. They are asking people to stay home.
Iftikhar said all businesses apart from groceries, pharmacies, and factories making items essential for combating the spread and prevention of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, will be closed. Islamabad has closed land borders and suspended international flights till April 4.
As of late March 23, at least six people had died among the 873 people who tested positive for the coronavirus. Among them was Osama Riaz, 26. The young physician’s death on March 22 highlighted the lack of personal protection equipment for medical workers.
Faizullah Faraq, a spokesman for the regional government of the Gilgit-Baltistan region near Pakistan's border with China, said Riaz would be given a national honor.
Officials and experts have warned the number of infections could rise in the near future due to poor conditions at government-run quarantine camps.
Compared with other countries, Pakistan has also conducted fewer tests, but the authorities now appear to ramping up tests and tracing people suspected of being exposed to the disease.
– With reporting by DPA