Islamabad: Pakistan said on Tuesday that it considerably increased its testing capability since the coronavirus outbreak as the number of COVID-19 cases reached nearly 1,900, showing a constant upward trajectory despite efforts to pull it downwards. Also Read - China Building Makeshift Hospital For Pakistan to Treat Coronavirus Patients

“The country had the capacity to test 30,000 people on March 13, and this will rise to 280,000 by tomorrow. By April 15, we will further increase it to 900,000, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, who was flanked by the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Revenue Minister Hammad Azhar, told reporters. Also Read - Coronavirus Pandemic: Pakistan Squash Legend Azam Khan Passes Away in London

He said the government was balancing its measures to combat the virus and also ensure food supply to the people.

“India is facing a difficult situation and we are trying to avoid a situation where people are starving, he said, referring to the 21-day nationwide lockdown in India.

Umar said that the National Coordination Committee was meeting regularly and it has set up a National Command Centre which became operational on Tuesday.

“Representatives of four provinces, Islamabad Capital Territory, Gilgit-Baltistian and (Pakistan-occupied) Kashmir are included in the two bodies to take unanimous decision on all issues related to the coronavirus,” he said.

Azhar said that the Cabinet on Tuesday approved a Rs 1,200-billion relief package to deal with the growing coronavirus crisis in the country.

The package was unveiled by Prime Minister Imran Khan last week and it was formalised on Monday by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) in its meeting, chaired by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh.

Prime Minister Khan chaired the Cabinet meeting which granted approval to the relief package on Tuesday, his Advisor on Information Firdous Ashiq Aawan told the media.

“There is no shortage of anything and the issue of transportation will be addressed soon,” Azhar said.

Advisor on Health Dr Mirza urged the people to follow social distancing in order to limit the spread of the virus in Pakistan. He said there were reports that those tested positive were not treated humanely.

They are being criminalised, what will happen is people will get scared and won’t come forward to report it. We are taking action and it should stop, he said.

The Ministry of Health Services in its update on dedicated website showed that the largest province of Punjab had maximum 652 patients. Punjab is followed by Sindh with 627, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with 221, Balochistan 153, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) 148, Islamabad 58 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 6 cases of COVID-19. The website reported 148 new patients in the last 24 hours.

So far 25 people have died due to the disease, while 52 recovered. Another 12 were in critical condition at various hospitals. It showed that he virus took at least 7 lives in a day as previously official reported only 18 deaths.

Officials in Pakistan were scrambling to contain the disease by appealing to the public to remain inside homes and go out only in cases of emergencies. But there was little impact on the masses and in several cities, people were seen roaming out while security officials were trying to convince them to go back to their places.

Efforts were also going to cope with mass breakout by providing more spaces for the patients and Pakistan Railways offered at least 30 coaches which were converted into isolation centers.

The government also set up a helpline on Whatsapp to provide essential information in seven languages to educate the people, including Urdu, English, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi and Kashmiri.

Separately, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended orders by various high courts to release dozens of undertrial prisoners to ease pressure on jails as there was threat of the spread of the disease in overcrowded prisons.

Earlier, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the Sindh High Court and the Lahore High Court had accepted bails of dozens of such prisoners.

The government of Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab has allowed treatment of critically ill patients of the COVID-19 with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine besides expanding the capacity of beds across the province, according to a media report on Tuesday.

Reportedly, the government has also procured 50,000 tablets of the drugs, as Mayo Hospital in Lahore had earlier started using the drug on critical patients.

China has also treated its critical patients suffering from the virus and the US has also allowed its use, the report said.

Dawn reported that the decision was taken by the government after the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) of the US granted approval to using hydroxychloroquine, which is originally used to treat malaria.

“Our physicians have started medication of the seriously ill patients of the coronavirus at the Mayo Hospital and initial reports suggest that the drug is yielding positive results,” unveiled Mayo Hospital Chief Executive Prof Dr Asad Aslam Khan.

Meanwhile, the government planned to rent two three-star hotels in the city to use their rooms to isolate suspected patients of the coronavirus.

A 1,000-bed Expo Centre Hospital has also been completed for patient management and will start functioning soon.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Advisor on Information Firdosu Ashiq Awan slammed Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif for criticizing government over handling of the crisis.

Instead of sitting in his five-star office, wearing a mask and lecturing the government, he should have been seen amongst the people doing something, she said.