Pakistan prepares to fight back as two coronavirus cases emerge in country

A Pakistani journalist wearing a protective facemask uses his mobile phone outside the Aga Khan University Hospital where a patient of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has been admitted in Karachi on February 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistan prepares to fight back as two coronavirus cases emerge in country

  • Both infected patients recently returned from Iran where they contracted the illness
  • Authorities have identified 1,500 people who returned from Iran in the last two week, says Sindh chief minister

KARACHI: Two coronavirus infections have been reported in Pakistan, both in persons who recently arrived from Iran, with one of them confirmed to be a resident of Karachi in Sindh province.

Addressing a news conference on Thursday, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah revealed that about 1,500 people who returned from Iran in the past two weeks have been identified by the authorities.
“The group of 28 that traveled with the affected patients has also been identified and will be quarantined,” Shah said.

He added that the provincial administration was hoping to be in control of the situation in the next 48 hours.
“Screening at airports is not satisfactory. I would request the federal government to do proper screening and make the process more effective,” the chief minister said.

Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani announced on Wednesday night that schools in the province would remain closed on Thursday and Friday.

In Balochistan, which borders Iran, all education institutes have been temporarily closed until March 15 “as a precaution to protect children from coronavirus,” the province’s education directorate announced in a circular on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, Minister of State for Health Zafar Mirza said that a case had been “reported in Sindh, whereas the second person tested positive in federal areas.”
The persons traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, Mirza said, adding that both were in stable condition.
The person in Sindh has been identified as a 22-year-old resident of Karachi and is already in quarantine.
The man “and other members of his family have been quarantined at a private hospital,” Meeran Yousuf, a spokesperson of the Sindh Health Department, told Arab News, adding that the patient arrived in Karachi on a flight from Mashhad on Feb. 20.
Meanwhile, isolation wards have been established at Karachi hospitals, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah told reporters.

Iran has the highest coronavirus toll outside of China, as the outbreak is spreading rapidly across the country.
Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Wednesday that 19 people had died from the illness, with 139 confirmed cases in the country. The World Health Organization says the virus has infected more than 80,000 people around the world, causing over 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.
Experts are concerned that Iran may be under-reporting cases and deaths.

Official says Chinese vaccines not very powerful

Updated 26 min 25 sec ago

Official says Chinese vaccines not very powerful

  • China’s top disease control official admitted country looking to mix vaccines to boost efficacy
  • Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses of its vaccines abroad

BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost.

Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses abroad while trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.

“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.

Officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines.

Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca vaccine.

Pakistan to resume coronavirus-hit flagship cricket tournament in June

Updated 11 April 2021

Pakistan to resume coronavirus-hit flagship cricket tournament in June

  • The hugely popular Pakistan Super League was postponed in March
  • Players participating in the tournament will face a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine starting May 22

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Cricket Board announced on Sunday its flagship cricket tournament, the Super League (PSL) 2021, would resume on June 1 after being suspended last month following a number of players testing positive for COVID-19.

The hugely popular Twenty20 franchise tournament was postponed after just 14 matches in Karachi.

“The members were informed that a mandatory seven-day quarantine period for all participants will commence from 22 May in one hotel and following three days of training sessions... matches will resume on 1 June with the final scheduled for 20 June,” PCB said in a statement.

The Board of Governors (BoG) of the Pakistan Cricket Board met through a virtual conference call on Saturday where they received a presentation and an update on the report of a fact-finding panel that was set-up by the PCB Chairman to review the tournament’s bio-security protocols, bylaws and arrangements, the handout said.

The board expressed disappointment with the failures highlighted in the tournament’s initial staging, but added they have confidence that PSL 6 would be completed in a safe and secure environment, the press release said. 

It added the PCB was in the final stages of appointing a globally-recognised safety management company that specialised in providing Covid-19 safe technology solutions, bio-secure monitoring and management.

The handout further said that the cricket board endorsed all recommendations of the fact-finding panel, including maintaining a zero-tolerance approach towards all those who breach health measures put in place.

Saudi sovereign fund invites mega Pakistani companies to invest in Kingdom — envoy

Updated 11 April 2021

Saudi sovereign fund invites mega Pakistani companies to invest in Kingdom — envoy

  • Big players in manufacturing, banking, telecommunications, and construction invited to explore business opportunities
  • Stakeholders say need to establish direct links between Pakistani and Saudi businessmen to translate brotherly relations into trade volumes

KARACHI: The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has invited mega Pakistani companies operating in the manufacturing and financial sectors to invest in the Kingdom’s infrastructure development under Vision 2030, Pakistani officials said on Sunday.
Earlier this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the PIF and its companies aimed to contribute 1.2 trillion riyals to non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of 2025.
“Recently, the largest Saudi institution, Public Investment Fund officials approached us in the embassy of Pakistan and met with the ambassador and trade mission officials,” Azhar Ali Dahar, Minister for trade and investment at the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, told Arab News on Sunday.
“PIF officials have invited Pakistani premier institutions like major banks, insurance companies, telecommunication operators, cement manufacturers, and construction companies to explore and benefit from existing lucrative business opportunities in the kingdom,” he added.
PIF is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world and aims to contribute SAR 1.2 trillion, or $320 billion, to non-oil GDP cumulatively by the end of 2025.
"Every year around $10 billion are being invested in Saudi Arabia under its Vision 2030 particularly for the development of infrastructure,” Dahar said, and added that no major Pakistani company was among the beneficiaries of these investment opportunities as compared to Indians with around 500 companies participating.
The trade mission chief said full support would be given to companies interested in investing in the Kingdom.
“The trade mission will facilitate meetings with PIF officials, arrange visits to the industrial areas where they will have opportunities to look for investment avenues,” Dahar said.
“They can bring initial investment and with the help of the fund, they can start their manufacturing process within just three months.”
The minister said that instead of manufacturing and exporting from Pakistan, manufacturing could happen in Saudi Arabia by availing the many incentives on offer by the government.
“In Pakistan there is an energy crisis but everything is available in the Kingdom,” he said. “All they (Pakistani businesses) have to do is bring initial investment and start production.”
“Whatever they will earn will ultimately go to Pakistan in the form of remittances,” he added.
The Pakistani trade mission chief said companies should contact the mission in Riyadh for further facilitation, “so they don’t miss out on this huge opportunity.”
Pakistani businessmen, for their part, lauded the ‘great gesture’ and said they would explore investment avenues.
“Our labor so far has played a crucial role in the development of the Kingdom,” Bilal Aqeel, Director of the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Business Council at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), told Arab News.
“Now they are directly inviting our companies to invest which is a great gesture,” he said.
“Our bilateral relations are superb but those relations do not reflect in our bilateral trade,” Aqeel said and added: “We need to establish direct links between Pakistani and Saudi businessmen to translate brotherly relations into real trade volumes.”

From Cambodia to celluloid: Pakistan’s Kaavan elephant makes movie debut 

Updated 11 April 2021

From Cambodia to celluloid: Pakistan’s Kaavan elephant makes movie debut 

  • Trailer for the documentary on “world’s loneliest elephant” was released by US singer Cher who facilitated his move 
  • Film follows Kaavan’s journey from an Islamabad zoo to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia after “decades of neglect” 

ISLAMABAD: Kaavan, the “world’s loneliest elephant,” could soon have a global fan base, thanks to an upcoming documentary on his life and journey from an Islamabad zoo to a wildlife sanctuary on the other side of the world in Cambodia. 

The trailer for “Cher & The Loneliest Elephant,” which was released on YouTube on Saturday, stars the 74-year-old US singer who, along with other animal activists in Pakistan, helped find a new home for the Asian elephant after “decades of neglect and loneliness.” 

“What does it take to relocate a five-ton elephant across the entire continent of Asia?” Cher says in the trailer of the documentary produced by Smithsonian Channel, which will air on Paramount+ on April 22. 

“It’s a huge challenge… we had to get him out.” 

Kaavan was gifted to Pakistan by Sri Lanka in 1985, spending 35 years of his life in Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo with his female partner, Saheli. 

After losing Saheli in 2012, Kaavan began to show signs of distress and was soon dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant” by activists who were working to highlight his plight in the zoo. 

“He was just moving back and forth. This behavior comes from severe mental and physical neglect,” an expert says in the documentary trailer. 

“I could see him from a distance; he was shackled, he was suffering,” Cher says, speaking of her first visit to see Kaavan in 2016. 

“Elephants are just like we are, they are so family-oriented and emotional, and so I wanted to free him,” she added. 

Cher began campaigning for Kaavan’s release five years ago, turning to social media to amplify the voices of Pakistani animal rights activists who had been petitioning for the elephant since 2015. 

He was finally freed in November 2020, with Vienna-based international rescue organization, Four Paws, spearheading the mission to move Kaavan to the Elephant Nature Park in Cambodia. 

A highly coordinated relocation effort heavily followed by local media showed Kaavan becoming receptive and rapidly changing under the care, love, and patience of veterans and specialists from Four Paws. 

The team worked to ease Kaavan’s transition into Cambodia, which would begin with a seven-hour flight in a crate decorated in Pakistani truck art as a tribute to the elephant. 

“We just didn’t stop fighting,” Cher says in the trailer. 

Pakistani police say wanted militant killed in shootout 

Updated 11 April 2021

Pakistani police say wanted militant killed in shootout 

  • Police says Niaz was involved in planning a 2015 suicide attack that killed then-home minister of Punjab province Shuja Khanzada 
  • Niaz was active with the Pakistani Taliban group Tahreek-e-Taliban in Punjab province in the Hazro area of the district of Attock

MULTAN: Counterterrorism police killed one of Pakistan’s most wanted militants in a shootout in the garrison city of Rawalpindi overnight, a police official said Sunday.
Officer Kashif Hussain said three of the militant’s accomplices escaped during the exchange of fire, leaving their weapons at the scene: two pistols, an assault rifle and ammunition.
He identified the slain militant only as Niaz and said he also uses the alias Zeeshan. Hussain said Niaz was active with the Pakistani Taliban group Tahreek-e-Taliban in Punjab province in the Hazro area of the district of Attock.
He said Niaz was also in league with banned militant organization Lashker-e-Jhangvi.
Hussain said Niaz was wanted in connection with a number of attacks in the region that killed more than two dozen citizens and security officials. There was a $40,000 bounty on his head.
According to Hussain, Niaz was involved in planning a 2015 suicide attack that killed then-home minister of Punjab province Shuja Khanzada, a high ranking police officer and others.
Hussain said the counterterrorism department received intelligence that four militants on two motorcycles planned to attack secret service officers so checkpoints were set up on the road linking Attock with Rawalpindi.
Late on Saturday, the targets were spotted approaching the Kheri Murat checkpoint. Hussain said they were asked to stop but instead the motorcyclists opened fire in an attempt to escape.
The Pakistani Taliban have a presence in areas of Punjab province that border northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They also have made inroads in southern Punjab near southwestern Baluchistan province.