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China Sends Medical Aid to Pakistan    03/28 08:41

   ISLAMABAD (AP) -- China sent a plane loaded with medical personnel and 
supplies to aid Pakistan in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in 
one of the world's most populous nations, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said 
Saturday.

   Across the Middle East and elsewhere, the outbreak has raised concerns that 
health systems strapped by multiple wars, refugee crises and unstable economies 
won't be able to handle a growing numbers in cases. Iran is battling the worst 
outbreak in the region. Iranian state TV raised Saturday that the virus death 
toll by another 139 people, pushing the total fatalities to 2,517 amid 35,408 
confirmed cases.

   China has sought to portray itself as a global leader in the fight against 
the outbreak, which began a few months ago in its Wuhan province. The plane 
carrying aid to Pakistan was met at the capital's airport Saturday by Foreign 
Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi, who greeted the arriving Chinese doctors and 
officials.

   On Friday, China sent ventilators, masks and other medical equipment to the 
South Asian country, and about a week ago sent a shipment of masks.

   Pakistan is a key link in China's ambitious multi-billion-dollar One Road 
Project linking south and central Asia with China. China is also a key military 
supplier for nuclear-armed Pakistan, having supplied the country with missiles 
capable of carrying atomic weapons.

   Pakistan, with a population of 220 million, currently has 1,408 confirmed 
cases of the virus, including 11 deaths from the illness it causes, COVID-19. 
Most of the infected people there were travelers returning from neighboring 
Iran. 

   Most people infected by the virus only experience mild symptoms, such as 
fever and cough, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe 
respiratory illness and death, particularly in older patients or those with 
underlying health problems. 

   Pakistan has closed its borders with both Iran and Afghanistan, but has come 
under widespread criticism for its initial lax response to the virus.

   Even as the pandemic spread to the country, Pakistani authorities allowed 
tens of thousands of Islamic clerics from around the world to congregate for 
three days outside the eastern city of Lahore. Some 200 of the clerics are now 
quarantined at the site of the gathering, a sprawling compound belonging to an 
Islamic missionaries group, Tableeghi Jamaat.

   Many of the visiting clerics at the conference returned to their home 
countries, some of them carrying the coronavirus. The first two reported cases 
in the Gaza Strip attended the three-day gathering in Pakistan, and are now 
under quarantine in Gaza. Other linked cases have emerged elsewhere in the 
Middle East and Central Asia.

   Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has refused to impose a countrywide 
lockdown saying it would devastate the country's poor, but ordered 
non-essential businesses closed, including restaurants, money changers and 
wedding halls. 

   As of Saturday, the government still had not ordered mosques closed 
nationwide, instead relying on recommendations to worshippers not to gather for 
weekly Friday prayers. Pakistani officials are reluctant to defy local hardcore 
Islamic leaders, who can whip up mobs to protest any perceived insults to 
religion. Some of these clerics have even taken to social media urging the 
faithful to fill the mosques, saying it is their religious obligation.

   The southern Sindh province has imposed a wider lockdown, but without 
closing mosques. In the eastern Punjab province, only groceries and pharmacies 
are open. 

   According to Pakistan's federal health authorities, the outbreak is so far 
concentrated in the Punjab, with 490 confirmed cases there, and Sindh which has 
457 confirmed infections. Other cases are spread throughout several other 
regions, including the capital, Islamabad.

   Health authorities in the country's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province 
reported one additional death Saturday, a woman in the district of Dir. Ajmal 
Wazir, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the woman fell sick 
after returning from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, before dying in a government 
hospital where she tested positive for the coronavirus.

   In Iran, officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under 
control, despite concerns it could overwhelm the country's health facilities.

   Iran's government has faced widespread criticism for not acting faster to 
contain the virus. Only in recent days have authorities ordered nonessential 
businesses to close and banned travel between cities --- long after other 
nations in the region imposed sweeping lockdowns.

   U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland on Saturday urged the country's 
warring groups to suspend fighting in and around the capital, Tripoli, as "an 
absolute necessity" to allow public health officials across the divided country 
to contain the epidemic.

   Libya's health system is near the point of collapse after years of civil 
war. It has so far reported one confirmed case of coronavirus.

   The North African country is governed by rival authorities based in Tripoli 
and eastern Libya whose forces have been battling over the capital for nearly a 
year. 

   Violence has continued despite promises from both sides to halt the fighting 
after appeals for a cease-fire from the United Nations and world powers so 
authorities can focus on fighting the virus.

   Authorities in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade 
since the Hamas militant group seized power there in 2007, have reported nine 
cases.

   Gaza's health care infrastructure has been severely eroded by years of 
conflict and isolation. A major outbreak in the territory, which is home to 
more than 2 million Palestinians, could be extremely difficult to contain.

   Another major area of concern is Yemen, where the rebel Houthis have been at 
war with a Saudi-led coalition for five years. The war has killed more than 
100,000 people, displaced millions more and driven the Arab world's poorest 
country to the brink of famine.

   Sudan's Health Ministry reported two more confirmed cases, bringing the 
total cases to five, including one death. Both of the new cases were Sudanese 
travelers returning from abroad last week, one coming from France, and another 
from the United Arab Emirates.

   Sudan has been rocked by over a year of political turmoil and protests that 
were triggered by a plunging economy.


(KR)

 
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