Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

Man posting fake video on social media against polio vaccine arrested (Photo Courtesy: APP)
Updated 24 April 2019

Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

  • Two policemen assigned to protect vaccination teams shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • Panic spread across the province on Monday due to false reports several schoolchildren had fainted after being administered polio drops

PESHAWAR: Ten people have been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for trying to derail an ongoing anti-polio drive with a concerted misinformation campaign, police said on Wednesday, as two policemen assigned to protect polio teams were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the last two days.
Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan is one of the only three countries where complete polio eradication has not yet been achieved, but case numbers are at the lowest level ever, with only eight cases reported in 2019. The country’s success follows an intense program based around vaccinating vulnerable children. 
On Monday, the program was thrown into jeopardy as panic spread across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to reports that hundreds of schoolchildren had to be rushed to health facilities apparently after being administered polio vaccine drops. It emerged the following day that parents had acted on rumors spread over community and mosque loudspeakers, and reported by mainstream and social media and shared on WhatsApp.
In Mashokhel, where the rumor apparently originated, a local health unit was set on fire by rioters, while a terrified public overwhelmed streets and hospitals across the province.
“Police have enhanced patrolling in the city to ensure smooth flow of the campaign,” Muhammad Ilyas, a spokesman for Peshawar police, told Arab News. “More arrests are expected as police raids continue in different localities of the city.”
Ilyas said among the ten people arrested was Nazar Muhammad who first spread misinformation about the anti-polio drive on Monday and was seen in viral social media videos coaxing children to pretend to fall ill after being administered polio drops. In other videos that also went viral, he was seen claiming that many children had fainted after being vaccinated.
Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office urged the country’s telecoms regulator to take action against misinformation spread on social media discouraging vaccination against polio and other diseases.
Separately last month, Facebook Inc, which along with other social media companies has faced growing pressure over spurious content spread on its platform, announced it would remove user groups and pages that contained misinformation about vaccinations. Online video sharing site YouTube has also said it would take action to stop advertising revenue to channels promoting anti-vaccination content.
On Monday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Dr. Hisham Inamullah Khan told reporters that complaints of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain by children were “psychological and triggered by panic” caused by the misinformation campaign and rumors.
Babar bin Atta, the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication, told Arab News the anti-polio drive was continuing throughout the province despite the misinformation campaign and the hunt was on to identify culprits behind Monday’s “nasty propaganda.”
“Not a single child at any hospital has been found to be affected [by the polio drops],” Atta said, adding that all of the children brought to hospitals were quickly discharged because they were in stable condition.
A nation-wide anti-polio campaign was kicked off in Pakistan on Monday, targeting 39 million children in all four provinces, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The panic was aimed at jeopardizing the polio eradication drive to put our children at risk but the perpetrators will be taken to task,” Atta said. “What they have done is a criminal act.”
Shehzad Kaukab, a spokesman for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, said an assistant sub-Inspector Imran (last name not given) had been killed in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while police constable Zafar Khan was killed in the province’s Bunner area.
No group has accepted responsibility for the killings. Many extremists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the polio campaign, saying it is used to sterilize Muslims. 


Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

Updated 54 min 24 sec ago

Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

  • Pakistan on Sunday saw the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in one month
  • Authorities relaxed most of coronavirus-related restrictions last week

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions may lead to a third coronavirus wave, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) warned on Sunday as infection figures are surging again.

Pakistan reported 1,780 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in over a month, health ministry data showed on Sunday. The total number of infections rose to 590,508, with 13,205 deaths.

The increase in COVID-19 cases comes after the National Command and Operation Center, which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, on Feb. 24 eased most of virus-related restrictions, allowing commercial activities and workplaces to function at full strength. Regular five-day classes restarted at schools from March 1.

"This could lead, god forbid, to a third wave of COVID-19 in the country,” PMA secretary general Dr. Qaiser Sajjad told Arab News.

He added that the decision to lift the restrictions now was too hasty and should take place after most Pakistanis have been vaccinated.

"We suggested that after vaccination of at least 70 percent of the population, (the government) could start lifting restrictions."

The country of 220 million is however short of reaching the suggested vaccination rate.  

Pakistan began its COVID-19 vaccination program last month with 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. Healthcare workers are being vaccinated in the first phase of the drive. Only 230,000 frontline health workers had received a shot so far.

The vaccination of citizens above the age of 60 is going to start on March 10, Planning Minister Asad Umar announced in a tweet on Sunday.

He added that more details would be shared on Monday.

https://twitter.com/Asad_Umar/status/1368488610350137344?s=20

About 5.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines are expected to arrive by the end of March.

Pakistan has so far approved China’s Sinopharm and CanSinoBIO vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University and Russia’s Sputnik V for emergency use.
 


Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

Updated 55 min 27 sec ago

Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

  • Insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack
  • Attack came a day after a roadside bomb went off between in Balochistan, killing two

QUETTA: Gunmen ambushed a vehicle transporting security forces killing a sailor and wounding two others in the coastal town of Jewni in southwest Pakistan, officials said Sunday.

The Pakistan Navy vehicle came under attack Saturday evening while traveling from Jewni to the Ganz area, said Zahoor Buledi, a Balochistan provincial minister.

The insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two intelligence officials confirmed the minister’s account, saying unidentified attackers opened fire with automatic weapons on the vehicle, which was also carrying Quick Response Force troops.

The attack came a day after five laborers were killed and five others, including two security personnel, were wounded when a roadside bomb went off between the towns of Sibi and Harnai in the same province.

Intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under policy, said a sailor was fatally shot while a barber and another sailor were critically wounded during an exchange of fire with the attackers.

Balochistan Liberation Army spokesman, Azad Baluch, in a message to reporters, said the group killed four Navy officers and wounded two others.

Buledi, the provincial minister, condemned the attack saying the insurgents were trying to demoralize security forces operating against them.

Officials said soon after the incident, security forces rushed to the scene and surrounded the area to try and locate the attackers.

Local administrator Athar Abbas said the body of the sailor and the wounded were shifted to the town hospital and there they were moved to Karachi.

Balochistan has been the locale of a long-running insurgency by Baloch separatist groups who want independence for the mineral and gas rich province that borders Iran and Afghanistan.
 


Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

Updated 07 March 2021

Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

  • Senate approved Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 on Feb. 1
  • The bill makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the federal capital

ISLAMABAD: Nearly 90 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of a senate bill that makes Arabic classes compulsory at school, a recent survey shows.

Pakistan’s upper house of parliament last month approved the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 which makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the capital, Islamabad.

“Eighty-nine percent Pakistanis said that they are in favor of the approval of a Senate bill that calls for Arabic to be a mandatory part of the syllabus in educational institutions,” Gallup & Gilani Pakistan said in the study released on Friday.

The study was carried out on a sample of 1,503 men and women in urban and rural areas of 100 districts of all four provinces of Pakistan between Feb. 6 and Feb. 27.

To become law, the senate bill on Arabic teaching now requires approval by the National Assembly.

The lawmaker who presented the bill, opposition senator Javed Abbasi, argued that a command of Arabic, the official language of over 25 countries, would open up more job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East, leading to lower unemployment and increased remittances.


Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

Updated 07 March 2021

Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

  • Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan earlier this week met Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials in Colombo
  • Pakistan last month offered a $50 million credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security  

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief has offered support to and agreed to strengthen cooperation with the Sri Lankan military, PAF said on Saturday.

Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan arrived in Colombo on Thursday, where he met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials.

As Marshal Khan lauded the efforts of Sri Lankan Armed Forces in their fight against terrorism during a meeting with Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, he offered Pakistan's support and cooperation, PAF said in a statement.


In this photo released by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on March 6, 2021, Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan meets Sri Lanka Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne in Colombo. (Photo courtesy: PAF)

"The leaders agreed to further enhance bilateral cooperation especially in training and professional enhancement programs," PAF said, adding that Gen. Gunaratne welcomed the Pakistani air chief's visit as "manifestation of the strong bond between the Armed Forces of both the countries, especially the two Air Forces."

The Pakistani air chief's visit follows Prime Minister Imran Khan's official visit in late February, during which Pakistan offered a $50 million new credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security.


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Updated 07 March 2021

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

  • Accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province
  • Eight cars of the 18-car train from Karachi to Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch

MULTAN: Eight cars of a Lahore-bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.

The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.

Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.

Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.

Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.