Exclusive: The mathematical model Pakistan is using to predict virus course

Passengers wearing facemasks sit in a carriageat the Karachi cantonment railway station as train services resumed ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Karachi on May 20, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Exclusive: The mathematical model Pakistan is using to predict virus course

  • Estimate of infections is revised, re-evaluated every week, experts tell Arab News
  • Officials predict more pressure from the virus by mid-June – a month from now

LAHORE: In a televised address to the country on May 15, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed relief that the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan were much lower than forecasted.

“As per our predictions, by May 14 Pakistan was to have 52,695 cases [of COVID-19] and 1,324 deaths,” he told the nation. According to the government statistics, on that day the official figure was a little over 37,000 infections, while 803 people had died.
“Thankfully, we are still below projections,” Khan said.

The forecast the prime minister was referring to is determined by a team of scientists and doctors who access and analyze the country’s data.

One of those scientists is Ahsan Ahmed. He and his team, spread across Pakistan as well as abroad, use the “Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered (SEIR)” mathematical model to predict the development of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In simpler terms, this model divides the population into four categories: those who are susceptible to the virus, these are people who could potentially catch the disease; the exposed, people who might have the virus but show no symptoms; the infectious, these are active cases; and the recovered.

The SEIR model was used successfully in the past to understand the outbreak of Ebola, SARS and Zika – and most recently in Wuhan, China, to assess how the novel coronavirus would spread.

Scientists around the world have used various epidemiological models to help policymakers plan ahead, and determine what interventions and resources will be needed in case of a surge. Pakistan, similarly, is also deploying a team of experts for the purpose.

Ahmed, who is the senior technical advisor at the ministry, told Arab News over the phone from Islamabad that his team is meticulous when extrapolating data to ensure that there are few if any, inaccuracies. 

Every week, the estimate of infected is revised and re-evaluated in comparison to actual, on-ground numbers. 

This data is then presented to the state’s National Command and Control Centre (NCOC), the primary body tasked with devising a strategy to counter the pandemic in the country.

When comparing official figures with forecasted ones, Ahmed explained, “the trend we are noticing is that they are pretty much aligned.” 

His team includes doctors based in London and Canada. Ahmed himself is from the University of Manitoba, Canada.

Others providing technical assistance includes a private data modelling company in Karachi, named Love For Data and officials from the UNICEF. 

Love for Data was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.

When asked how many cases Pakistan is expected to record in the coming weeks, both Ahmed and Atta-ur-Rehman, the additional secretary at the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation, declined to comment, stating that these figures were only disclosed to the NCOC.

But separately, the Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, tweeted that Pakistan was expected to receive more pressure from the virus by mid-June – a month from now.

Independent forecasts predict the same. Jan Fiete Grosse-Oetringhaus and Zafar Yasin, affiliated with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland, have done their own modeling using the SEIR model.

Yasin agrees with the assessment by Chaudhry that Pakistan would likely reach its peak of daily cases by the middle of next month. 

By then, he estimates, the confirmed cases could be between 200,000 to 350,000 or even more, and deaths between 4,000 to 7,000.

But he has one concern. While the SEIR model is very accurate, in Pakistan’s case, there is a mismatch.

“In Pakistan, it seems that the confirmed cases (based on model predictions) should be 80,000 by now, but we are in the range of 43,000,” Yasin tells Arab News. “When the same model was used for different countries in Europe, it gave reliable results, but for Pakistan, it is showing a different trend.”

One reason, Yasin added, could be that Pakistan is not testing enough in comparison to its population. At this point, it should be testing between 40-50,000 per day, he said.

As of May 20, Pakistan had carried out nearly 13,000 tests per day for a population of over 207 million.

This uncertainty affects the model's output. In other words, the fewer people are tested, the less will be known about the actual number of people infected.

Earlier this month, international scientists tracking the spread of the coronavirus estimated that for every known case, there are five to ten people whose infections are not known. The study was published in Science Magazine.

In the same address on May 15, PM Khan made another revelation.

Due to lower than forecasted figures, he said, there is still space in the hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients, and the pressure on the healthcare system is not that much.  

But health officials and those on the frontlines tending to coronavirus patients, disagree. Even if government figures are below those forecasted, they say, hospitals are already brimming with patients suffering from COVID-19.

Dr Nasir Azim Kakar, a pulmonologist at the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in Pakistan’s poorest province, Balochistan, told Arab News that he and his colleagues receive an influx of patients daily.

“If earlier we were examining five patients a day, now we examine three times that,” he said over the phone from Quetta.

“These days, when we receive patients, we face a major shortage of ICU beds, ventilators, and a shortage of staff, especially for the ICU.”

*With additional reporting by Nazar ul Islam


Pakistan imposes travel ban on seven countries due to new coronavirus variant

Updated 27 November 2021

Pakistan imposes travel ban on seven countries due to new coronavirus variant

  • The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa where it infected young people in their 20s
  • Pakistan's planning minister says the new variant has made it more urgent to vaccinate eligible population of 12 years and older

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday imposed a complete ban on travel from seven countries after the emergence of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa which has started spreading to other parts of the world.

Medical experts say the omicron variant of the virus is highly transmissible, causing a rapid increase in the number of new COVID-19 infections in the African state.

Media reports indicate the omicron variant has also infected South Africa's young population, making some of them require intensive care.

"Consequent to emergence of Omicron corona variant in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions, the following countries have also been included in [Category C] and complete ban has been imposed on direct/indirect inbound travel from these countries with immediate effect," said a notification circulated by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the country's central pandemic body.

The official statement named South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana, asking the aviation division to devise a mechanism for the screening of passengers traveling from these states through indirect flights.

The NCOC said the government would allow Pakistani passengers from the Category C countries to travel after obtaining emergency exemptions and following certain requirements which include a vaccination certificate, negative PCR report and rapid antigen test on arrival.

The statement added that stranded Pakistanis in these countries would be allowed to travel back until December 5 without seeking exemption, though they would have to follow the same health and testing protocols.

The NCOC has also made a three-day quarantine at home mandatory for those testing negative for the rapid antigen test on arrival.

However, any Pakistani national flying from one of these countries who tests positive for the virus will have to undergo a stricter 10-day quarantine period.

Pakistan's planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads the national pandemic response body, said in a Twitter post the emergence of the new coronavirus variant had made it "even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens [of] 12 years and older."

 

 

The country's COVID-19 positivity rate is currently less than one percent, though it reported seven deaths caused by the debilitating respiratory disease in the last 24 hours on Saturday.


IMF satisfied with Pakistan’s utilization of COVID-19 fund – finance ministry

Updated 27 November 2021

IMF satisfied with Pakistan’s utilization of COVID-19 fund – finance ministry

  • The global lending agency provided $1.4 billion to Pakistan last year to mitigate the negative economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak
  • The ministry says the IMF acknowledged there was no embezzlement in the utilization of the COVID-19 fund

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance ministry said on Saturday the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had expressed satisfaction over the country’s utilization of COVID-19 fund after an audit report of the urgently procured supplies related to the disease was shared with it.

Last year, the international financial institution provided $1.4 billion to Islamabad to meet its balance of payment requirements stemming from the coronavirus outbreak, though it also required the government to conduct an ex-post audit of its utilization.

The ministry published the audit report on its website on Friday to fulfil an IMF condition, making the local media say some Rs40 billion of irregularities had been found in the COVID-19 budget.

Responding to the claim, the ministry said the auditor general of Pakistan had discussed the report “in detail” with the IMF in June and during the recently concluded sixth review for a multibillion-dollar bailout package.

“The IMF was fully satisfied that there was no case of fraud and embezzlement,” it said in a statement.

The ministry informed a majority of paragraphs and observations included in the report related to procedural shortcomings due to emergency procurements.

“The IMF was further informed that divisions/organisations have noted those shortcomings and taken remedial measures,” it added.

The ministry admitted it had published the report on the website as a “prior action under the recently completed 6th review” of the IMF extended fund facility.

It said the report had already been presented to parliament and was therefore in public knowledge.

“The government strongly believes in and is committed to transparency and accountability,” it continued.


Pakistan’s foreign ministry praises Arab diplomatic missions for fervent participation in cultural event

Updated 27 November 2021

Pakistan’s foreign ministry praises Arab diplomatic missions for fervent participation in cultural event

  • Organized by the Pakistan Foreign Office Women’s Association, the charity event was held after a gap of two years due to COVID-19
  • Diplomats and their families arranged cultural performances and shared traditional cuisine with people visiting the event

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood applauded the diplomatic missions of Arab countries for passionately participating in a charity event organized in the federal capital on Saturday, saying their involvement highlighted the diversity of Islamic culture to the rest of the world.
Planned by the Pakistan Foreign Office Women’s Association, the event was inaugurated by Samina Alvi, the wife of the country’s president, after a gap of two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Diplomats and their families set up stalls of their countries where they arranged cultural performances and shared traditional cuisines with people.

The officials of the United Arab Emirates are briefing visitors about their products at a charity event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN photo)

The stalls of the Middle Eastern embassies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, captured the attention of visitors attending the charity event which was organized to raise funds for low-income staff members Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
“Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and other important Gulf states have participated in this noble cause by setting up big stalls,” said the foreign secretary. “Along with this, they are also offering very good and substantial prizes in the raffle draws and other activities to support this event.”
“The diplomatic missions from different countries have brought their handicrafts, cuisines and other cultural things which put up a very beautiful mosaic here,” he added.

Visitors are posing for pictures in front of a traditional Saudi tent installed at a charity event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN photo)

The embassy of Saudi Arabia set up a traditional Bedouin tent at the event which displayed handicrafts from the kingdom and served dates and Arabic coffee.
“This event has provided us a good opportunity to show the Saudi culture and traditions to Pakistanis as well as other countries,” the kingdom’s cultural attaché, Muhammad Abdulaziz Al-Madani, told Arab News.
“Pakistan is just like our second home since Pakistanis have always shown great respect and affection for Saudis,” he added.
Al-Madani maintained the love and understanding of Arab culture had increased in Pakistan due to such events, adding this was also evident by the gradually increasing number of Middle Eastern restaurants in Islamabad and other cities.

Jordanian embassy officials are briefing visitors about their products at their country’s stall at a charity event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN photo)

Jordan’s envoy to Pakistan Ibrahim Al-Madani said the event had given people an opportunity to see the whole world in a small but colorful place.
“We set up our stall to highlight what Jordan actually looks like to visitors, whether they are from Pakistan or other countries,” he said. “We have been offering traditional Jordanian food which is presented by women in traditional clothes. We are also informing visitors about important tourist destinations in our country.”

Iraqi embassy officials are briefing visitors about their products at their country’s stall at a charity event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN photo)

Asked about the event, Iraq’s ambassador Hamid Abbas Lafta said such projects were much needed in a society.
“We are serving the humanity by being here and participating in this great cause since this is a charity event,” he told Arab News.

Palestinian students and embassy officials are performing their traditional dance at a charity event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN photo)

The initiative to arrange the event was also applauded the Palestinian envoy.
“It is an important occasion since we can present Palestinian culture to our Pakistani brothers and sisters,” said Ambassador Ahmed Rabei.
He added that Pakistan and Palestine were very close since every government in Islamabad had supported the Palestine issue at every world forum.
Yemen’s ambassador to Pakistan Mohammed Motahar Alashabi said he was happy to see so many people at the event since COVID-19 had almost made such gatherings impossible.
“It is an amazing event, providing a wonderful opportunity to people who want to gain information on different cultures from around the world,” he said.


Ali, Shafique give Pakistan solid platform against Bangladesh

Updated 27 November 2021

Ali, Shafique give Pakistan solid platform against Bangladesh

  • Abid Ali scored 93 while Abdullah Shafique was batting on 52 as Pakistan reached 145-0 at stumps
  • Bangladesh were bowled out for 330

CHITTAGONG: An unbroken opening century stand by Abid Ali and debutant Abdullah Shafique gave Pakistan a solid platform after bowling out Bangladesh for 330 on day two of the first Test in Chittagong on Saturday.
Ali closed in on his fourth Test century to stay unbeaten on 93 while Shafique was batting on 52 as Pakistan reached 145-0 at stumps, 185 shy of Bangladesh’s first-innings total.
“In the afternoon, it started to spin a bit. The ball was old. So it was gripping and doing a few other tricks. Our plan was that we have to stay at the wicket and utilize the bad balls,” Ali said after the day’s play.
Pace bowler Hasan Ali led Pakistan earlier with the ball, finishing with 5-51, his sixth five-wicket, which kept Bangladesh in check after the hosts resumed with 253-4 in the morning.
Liton Das top-scored with 114 for Bangladesh, adding just one run to his overnight score, while Mushfiqur Rahim, unbeaten on 82 at the end of the opening day’s play, fell for 91 runs.
Mehidy Hasan struck an unbeaten 38 to take Bangladesh past 300 before he claimed two wickets in two balls to bring an end to Bangladesh’s efforts with the bat.
“When we lost four wickets before lunch, everyone thought we would be bowled out early. Mushfiqur and I put together a good partnership,” said Liton.
“By the end of the day, we were thinking about a big total. But cricket is unpredictable. Pakistan are in a good position now. If we can take two or three wickets tomorrow morning, we will be back on par.”
Pakistan had Bangladesh on the ropes on day one at 49-4 but the hosts fought back thanks to Liton and Mushfiqur.
Pakistan looked sharp right from the start of the second day’s play when Hasan trapped Liton leg-before in the second over of the morning.
Struck on his backfoot, Liton was initially given not out but Pakistan successfully reviewed the decision.
Liton, who shared 206 runs with Mushfiqur in the fifth wicket, hit 11 fours and a six in his 233-ball innings.
Hasan then dismissed Yasir Ali for four with a fine in-swinger that rattled the leg and middle stumps of the debutant.
Faheem took a thin edge from the bat of Mushfiqur, effectively ending Bangladesh’s chance for a big total.
Mushfiqur struck 11 fours in his 225-ball stay at the crease.


PIA expands Saudi Arabia operations as kingdom allows direct entry from Pakistan

Updated 27 November 2021

PIA expands Saudi Arabia operations as kingdom allows direct entry from Pakistan

  • The national flag carrier has decided to operate 35 flights to various destinations in the kingdom on a weekly basis
  • PIA spokesperson says all passengers will have to comply with the Saudi quarantine requirement

KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines announced to expand its flight operations to Saudi Arabia two days after the kingdom lifted an entry ban on expats from six countries that was introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Saudi interior ministry allowed fully vaccinated expatriates from Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, Egypt and India to enter the kingdom without spending 14 days in transit outside of their countries.
The policy will take effect from December 1.
“The PIA administration has decided to expand its operations to Saudi Arabia by operating 35 flights from the beginning of December to Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Al-Qassim,” the airline spokesperson, Abdullah Khan, told Arab News, adding that the decision to further expand the operations would be taken after evaluating the travel demand.
He said the flights would originate from Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and Karachi.
The Saudi interior ministry said in its statement on Thursday expats arriving from unbanned countries should spend five days in quarantine outside the kingdom regardless of their vaccination status.
It added that all procedures and measures in relation to the pandemic were subject to continuous evaluation by the kingdom’s health authorities.
Saudi officials also instructed the expatriates to undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from coronavirus infection.
The PIA spokesperson maintained all passengers would need to ensure compliance with the Saudi rules.
It may be recalled that Saudi Arabia suspended all flights to and from the kingdom on March 14, 2020, after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic.
Entry to the kingdom by air, land and sea resumed on January 3, 2021, though it imposed a direct entry ban on certain countries of concern the next month.