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

In this file photo a family wearing masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus visits a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, June 2, 2020. (AP)
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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.
 


Pakistan records highest single-day virus death toll this year

Updated 43 min 5 sec ago

Pakistan records highest single-day virus death toll this year

  • COVID-19 death toll on Sunday was second highest since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year
  • Increasing number of fatalities comes as the number of people getting vaccinated has dropped in the first days of Ramadan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday recorded 149 coronavirus-related deaths — its highest single-day COVID-19 death toll since June last year, government data showed, as a third viral wave sweeps through the country.

The South Asian country of 220 million has recorded 756,285 infections and 16,243 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year.

At least 6,127 new coronavirus cases were reported in the past 24 hours by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response. According to official data, 4,446 coronavirus patients are critical.

Most of the daily deaths, 97, were reported in the country’s largest province, Punjab, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — 35.

Sunday’s virus death toll is the second highest since the beginning of the pandemic. The highest number of fatalities was recorded on June 19, 2020, when 153 people died of COVID-19.

The increasing number of COVID-19 deaths comes as the number of people getting vaccinated against the virus is believed to have dropped during the first days of Ramadan, as many fear that receiving a shot could break their fast.

As infection figures are rising, Pakistan on Wednesday will start vaccinating residents aged 50 or older against COVID-19, Planning Minister Asad Umar said on Saturday.

The country began its vaccination drive last February with doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, starting with health workers, followed by people above the age of 60.

Last week, Umar, who also heads the NCOC, said Pakistan had so far vaccinated about 1.3 million people and intended to launch a general vaccination program for all citizens after the fasting month of Ramadan in mid-May.

American media company Bloomberg recently reported that Pakistan would take a decade to vaccinate 75 percent of its population — required for herd immunity — at its current immunization pace.


Pakistani expats await family reunions as Saudi readies to lift flight ban

Updated 18 April 2021

Pakistani expats await family reunions as Saudi readies to lift flight ban

  • Several expatriates face an agonizing wait on relatives stranded in their homelands by flight suspensions, particularly during Ramadan
  • Saudi will resume international flights, which were suspended due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, on May 17

RIYADH: Syed Faiz Ahmad says he’s worried about the fate of two of his relatives who traveled to Pakistan for emergency reasons but were left stranded there after Saudi Arabia suspended flights to and from the Kingdom in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“One went to help his ailing father, leaving his family behind in Riyadh. But he got stuck. His wife and two children are all alone here and are desperately waiting for him to return, especially during this month of Ramadan,” Ahmad, a Pakistani expatriate residing in the Kingdom, told Arab News.

He is one of several expatriates in the Kingdom who face an agonizing wait on relatives stranded in their homelands by flight suspensions, particularly during Ramadan when most families look forward to gatherings around the iftar table.

Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.

However, many expats are anxiously watching airline schedules as countries ease travel curbs, opening the way for family reunions.

International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular.

Anwar Pasha Ansari, an Indian expatriate working in Jeddah, told Arab News that his daughter Heba Anwar is stranded in India.

“No father and mother should go through this agony,” he said.

Ansari said that his daughter left Jeddah to appear for her bachelor’s final exam in New Delhi, hoping to rejoin her family to celebrate Eid last year. “But perhaps destiny was preparing another fate,” he said.

Ansari said that travel bans “brought the curtain down for all parents like us whose children were held up in India.”
He added: “To add insult to injury, all students were asked to vacate their hostel and make their own living arrangements, which was a nightmare for parents working overseas.”

With no end to travel restrictions in sight, Ansari’s daughter planned to travel to Saudi Arabia via the UAE after spending 14 days in Dubai.
Ansari said that when his daughter arrived in Dubai in January, they were elated at the prospect of reuniting with her.

But with only three days left of her quarantine, a temporary traveling restriction from Dubai to Saudi Arabia came into force, and all hope was gone. “Heba spent a substantial time hoping against hope that flights would be resumed and checking any news pertaining to flight resumption to Saudi Arabia,” said Anwar. “She was only a couple of hours away from us.”

Finally, after all options were exhausted, Heba was forced to return to India, bravely telling her parents: “Papa and mummy, stay well, this phase will pass, too.”

Ansari’s story will be familiar to thousands separated from their children as the coronavirus pandemic challenges everyone’s patience, endurance and capacity to endure the hardships of separation.

Technology and video apps help but are not enough to bridge the gap as families face even more time apart.
Raafat Aoun, a Lebanese expat working in the Kingdom, told Arab News: “The closure of flights has affected many expat families. My brother-in-law had to travel to Beirut to attend to an emergency. Now he finds himself in a very difficult situation as he is stuck there, and his wife and four young children are all alone in Jeddah.”

Aoun said that his brother-in-law had been stranded for more than three months. “I am supporting them and extending them all the help I can. But this festive season is becoming very difficult for me, too. I hope and pray flights resume soon so that my brother-in-law can return to his family.”

There are nearly 1.06 million Pakistanis residing in the Kingdom with a majority working in unskilled sectors such as construction.


From socialites to restauranteurs, Pakistanis in UAE give back during Ramadan

Updated 18 April 2021

From socialites to restauranteurs, Pakistanis in UAE give back during Ramadan

  • Philanthropists and their families are personally involved in the delivery of meals and rations during Ramadan
  • The second Ramadan since the pandemic broke out in early 2020 brings with it charity amid a global economic downturn

DUBAI:  Pakistanis living in the UAE are helping the poor this year by personally delivering iftar meals and other essential food items during the holy month of Ramadan.

With a near global economic downturn impacting the poor due to COVID-19, the second Ramadan since the pandemic broke out in early 2020 brings some respite with increased charity.

Ajman-based Ayesha Sohail, 38, has taken her charity initiative online, and uses a mostly all-women Facebook group she created eight years ago called ‘UAE Fusion Socialites’ to get help from its 19,000 members.

Previously, she used the same platform to deliver 2,300 ration boxes from February to September during the lockdowns last year-- each box worth Dh385.

Ramadan packets ranging from Dh10-15 that are being distributed amongst blue collar workers in Ajman by Talha Ahmed Khan (AN Photo: Courtesy Talha Ahmed Khan)

“This year I have been getting messages for help from Sudanese, Filipinos and Indians as well,” Ayesha told Arab News on Thursday.

Ayesha circulates the calls for help among her group members, and asks them to contribute. Sometimes, she gets sponsorships from businesses.

“This year we have already given away 300 boxes to needy families and individuals in Ajman, Dubai and Sharjah,” she said, adding that the initiative will continue until the end of the month.

Each box contains 10 kilos of rice, flour, lentils, Rooh Afza and other food items that are delivered to the doorsteps of needy families by Ayesha, her husband and son, 12.

“Officials from Facebook also got in touch with me recently and appreciated how I was using the platform to help the community,” Ayesha said.

Saeeda Raiz and her two daughters packing essential food items at their home on April 15 to deliver amongst needy families in the UAE (AN Photo courtesy Saeeda Riaz)

Offline too, Pakistanis living in the UAE are making efforts to be personally involved in charity work.

Talha Ahmed Khan, a Dubai-based businessman, started an initiative called ‘Rizq’ to support those affected by lockdowns last year, and said that this year too, many people were surviving on the bare minimum.

Khan reached out to family and friends and asked them to support the 38 needy families and people he had identified by giving them warm meals and iftar every day for 30 days, from ‘Delhi Nihari’-- a restaurant he owns in Dubai.

Those offering support have been asked to choose between food combos costing between Dh10 to 15 or to independently choose meals they’d like to donate instead.

“A rider and I pick up the food packets at 4 p.m. and start out on deliveries which continue right until iftar time… sometimes I have to break my fast on the way back but it is all worth it,” he said.

During his efforts, Khan also came across a number of blue-collar workers whose salaries had been halved and who could save some money if they didn’t have to spend on food.

Food packets for 15 of the 38 workers have already been sponsored for a month while 23 others still need support.

Saeeda Riaz, a Dubai-based Pakistani businesswoman has also been delivering rations to 17 needy families who have reached out to her through an online platform called ‘Helping Hands’ launched two years ago.

Saeeda, who runs a property management firm, told Arab News that five of the 17 families had already been provided with food items to last them through the month.

“They need all the help that can be given to them,” she said.

Saeeda does the shopping and packing of food items herself, alongside her two children. Each pack contains 25 kilos worth of groceries.

“Since I deliver all these items myself, we can only do it in a limited way, she said. 

“But soon, the rest will be done too.”


Pakistan expands COVID-19 vaccination to people aged 50 and older

Updated 42 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan expands COVID-19 vaccination to people aged 50 and older

  • Pakistan has so far vaccinated about 1.3 million people out of its 220 million population
  • General vaccination program for all citizens expected to start after the fasting month of Ramadan in mid-May

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will start vaccinating residents aged 50 or older against COVID-19 from Wednesday next week, Planning Minister Asad Umar said on Saturday.

The country began its vaccination drive last February with doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, starting with health workers, followed by people above the age of 60.

Earlier this week, Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the country's apex body for coronavirus response, said Pakistan had so far vaccinated about 1.3 million people out of its 220 million population and intended to launch a general vaccination program for all citizens after the fasting month of Ramadan in mid-May.

"Decision taken in today's NCOC meeting to start vaccination of people in the age group of 50 to 59 from Wednesday the 21st of April," Umar said in a tweet.

 

 

He told the media on Tuesday that the country was immunizing between 60,000 and 70,000 people on a daily basis and planned to increase the number after Eid Al-Fitr.

The number of those getting their jabs is believed to have dropped during the first days of Ramadan as many fear that receiving a shot could break their fast.

Pakistan Medical Association secretary general Dr. Qaisar Sajjad said that despite the fact that religious scholars have endorsed the opinion of doctors to continue with vaccination despite the fast, more awareness is still needed.

“The government has done arrangement for vaccination during night but since we are going through the peak of a third wave and the cases of coronavirus infection are growing, the authorities should run a rigorous campaign with video messages of religious scholars so that the process may go fast all the time,” he told Arab News.

American media company Bloomberg recently reported that Pakistan would take a decade to vaccinate 75 percent of its population at its current immunization pace.


PM Khan says religious party banned over violence, demands apology from Western 'extremists'

Updated 18 April 2021

PM Khan says religious party banned over violence, demands apology from Western 'extremists'

  • Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik protesting since Monday to demand leader’s release, call on government to expel French ambassador
  • TLP and other religious parties have denounced France since October last year saying it defended blasphemy as freedom of expression

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a rightwing religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week over blasphemous French cartoons, was being banned for using violence against law enforcers and citizens, but added that “extremists” in the West who hurt the sentiments of Muslims also needed to apologize.

Protests erupted in Pakistan on Monday, and quickly turned violent, after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore, a day after he threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.

On Thursday, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be dissolved.

“Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers. No one can be above the law and the Constitution,” the PM said in a series of tweets.

However, the PM also called out “extreme right politicians” in the West who he said deliberately hurt the sentiments of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims in the name of freedom on speech: “We demand an apology from these extremists.”

In October last year, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his pupils during a civics lesson.

During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including said it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.

A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.

The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was removed from the text of a government form.