Pakistan limits flights, shuts borders and schools over coronavirus

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan shut all its schools and land borders on Friday and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

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The measures were announced by ministers after a meeting of the national security council chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by civilian and military leaders.

“It has been decided that all borders will remain closed for 15 days,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the local ARY and Dunya TV networks. “International flights will operate only out of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports.”

Pakistan had already shot down flight services to and from neighboring Iran, which has suffered one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks.

Educational establishments would be closed for three weeks until April 5, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood tweeted.

“This includes all schools and universities, public and private, vocational institutions and madaris.”

Pakistan borders China and Iran, both of which have been hit hard by the virus. Pakistani authorities has reported 21 cases of the coronavirus but no deaths. Most of the people with infections had recently traveled to Iran, though Pakistan reported its first locally contracted case on Friday.

Qureshi said all public gatherings will need to be discouraged whether wedding parties or religious, social or political assemblies. “We think we could contain it with effective measures. We need to avoid all public gatherings.”

Authorities also canceled Pakistan’s largest annual Islamic religious gathering, the Tableeghi Jamaat, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the outskirts of the city of Lahore, and barred spectators from cricket league matches.

“I know there is a lot of emotional attachment to the Tableeghi Jamaat,” Qureshi said, and thanked its organizers for calling it off in the middle of a three-day session on Friday.

Pakistan’s largest sporting event now under way, the Pakistan Super League, was also shortened and its matches closed to spectators. Local media reported that many overseas players had opted to leave the country.

Pakistan, like most South Asian countries, has a poor public medical care system ill-equipped to deal with any large scale health emergency such as coronavirus.

Hasan reported from Karachi, Pakistan. Additional Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore, Pakistan. Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Mark Heinrich