ISLAMABAD - Officials in Pakistan Thursday said the number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 21, noting that eight of them were imported from Syria.
The World Health Organization has declared the global outbreak a pandemic.
Pakistan, with a population of more than 200 million people, confirmed its first case more than two weeks ago but has not reported any fatalities.
State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza said all of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 are related to outbreaks in countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq and China.“
A majority of the infections are in their initial stages, and we are hopeful the patients will recover from the disease,” he said.
Mirza noted that there have been no local transmissions of the virus in Pakistan, saying federal authorities, together with provincial governments, are taking all possible measures to prevent it from spreading.
At least three of the patients are said to have arrived from London via Dubai.
Pakistani officials said 14 of the coronavirus cases, including those linked to Syria, arrived in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and the country’s largest city.
A provincial government spokesman said Thursday that two of the patients have recovered, while the rest remain under observation in isolation wards.
Murtaza Wahab, an adviser to the chief minister, also announced that the remaining matches of an ongoing national cricket competition, which involved international players, will now take place in Karachi without spectators to prevent the spread of the virus. Education institutions in Sindh have already been closed.
Syria denies virus presence
For their part, Syrian officials have reportedly denied the presence of the coronavirus in the country, saying several dozen suspected cases have tested negative. “
There are no coronavirus cases in Syria so far,” Health Minister Nizar Yaziji reportedly told Syrian media on Tuesday.
Pakistan shuts borders
Pakistan has closed its border with neighboring Iran, and air links remain suspended with Iran, one of the worst hit by the virus across the globe. Iranian officials reported Thursday the nationwide death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 429, while the number of infected people surpassed 10,000.
Pakistan has also closed its overland border with China and cut air links to the country known as the epicenter of the coronavirus, where the first case was detected in December before the infection surfaced in other nations.
Islamabad has also shut a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan. Afghan officials have confirmed seven cases of the coronavirus, linking them to the Iranian outbreak.
Punjab declares emergency
On Thursday, the most populous Pakistani province of Punjab declared a medical emergency across the region, saying the precautionary step was related to the coronavirus outbreak. No confirmed cases have been detected in the province.
Provincial Health Minister Yasmin Rashid told reporters in the capital of Lahore that the government has also stepped up vigilance at international airports in Punjab.
The Maryland-based Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus using data compiled by the World Health Organization and U.S. and Chinese national health organizations, says more than 127,000 people worldwide were infected by COVID-19 as of Thursday. More than 4,700 of them died, while approximately 68,000 have recovered.
Most of the fatalities and infections occurred in China, where authorities have reported a significant decline in new cases in the past few days.