Tighter restrictions on public activities as second coronavirus wave sweeps Pakistan

Men wearing protective masks walk along a market amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Karachi on Oct. 14, 2020. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 29 October 2020

Tighter restrictions on public activities as second coronavirus wave sweeps Pakistan

  • Planning minister says coronavirus positivity ratio had crossed three percent for the first time after over 70 days
  • Says virus spread could be curbed only if people “believe in the need for precautions”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which leads coronavirus mitigation efforts across the country, announced that all business centers, wedding halls, restaurants and shopping malls would shut by 10p.m. from Thursday to curb the spread of the coronavirus, state run Radio Pakistan said.

The NCOC’s decision comes two days after Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr. Faisal Sultan, formally announced a second wave of the coronavirus in Pakistan, warning that imposing restrictions once again had become “inevitable.”

According to a government portal, 331,108 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Pakistan so far, and there have been 6,775 deaths.

“Essential services such as medical stores, clinics and hospitals will remain open and public parks have been asked to shut down by 6pm,” the NCOC said. 
Pakistan’s minister for planning Asad Umar, who also oversees the country’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, said on Twitter that the national coronavirus positivity ratio had crossed three percent for the first time after over 70 days on Wednesday.

“NCOC has tightened restrictions on some high risk public activities,” Umar said. “However, the rising spread of the disease can only be controlled if people believe in the need for precautions

On Wednesday Pakistan announced that wearing masks in public places would now be mandatory and directed provincial government to ensure that masks were worn “particularly [in] bazaars, shopping malls, public transport and restaurants.”

“80 percent disease spread and increase positivity ratio in 11 major cities across Pakistan,” a statement from the NCOC statement said.

Local media reported that 4,374 lockdowns had been imposed in 11 cities, including Quetta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Peshawar, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Mirpur, Karachi, Gilgit and Muzaffarabad.

Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat also issued a notification on Wednesday imposing Section 144 in the federal capital for two months and announcing that anyone visiting a public place without a face mask could be arrested.

In August, the government announced that virtually all sectors in Pakistan shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus would be reopened that month, other than schools and marriage halls, which opened in September. Since then, there has been a slow uptick in infection numbers.
 


Medical panel to investigate spread of coronavirus in Pakistan Super League

Updated 07 March 2021

Medical panel to investigate spread of coronavirus in Pakistan Super League

  • Infectious disease experts will explore why the PSL players’ and staff’s bio-secure bubble failed
  • The hugely popular PSL was postponed mid-league after six players and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board has formed a two-member fact-finding panel to investigate how players were infected with coronavirus in the bio-secure bubble, leading to the postponement of the country’s premier Twenty20 league.
The Pakistan Super League was indefinitely postponed on Thursday after six players and a support staff member — including Australian legspinner Fawad Ahmed — tested positive for COVID-19.
The two-member panel is made up of Pakistan’s infectious disease experts Dr. Syed Faisal Mahmood and Dr. Salman Mohammad Abbas, who will review the bio-secure bubble protocols put in place for the PSL. They will submit a report to PCB chairman Ehsan Mani by March 31.
The PCB said in a statement on Sunday that the independent panel has also been tasked with identifying shortcomings of the bio-secure bubble and “advise as to the reasons why the bio-secure environment did not remain COVID-19 free.”
Mani said that both doctors will also speak with all the relevant PSL stakeholders, including players, event and hotel staff as well as medical and compliance officers attached to all six teams.
“The independent panel of two distinguished experts has been appointed with the sole purpose of an honest, constructive and objective review,” Mani said.


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

Updated 07 March 2021

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 07 March 2021

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, Sri Lanka military agree to enhance defense cooperation

Updated 07 March 2021

Pakistan, Sri Lanka military agree to enhance defense cooperation

  • 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 and Sri Lanka's defense secretary have agreed to strengthen defense cooperation, 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.