WHO approves China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

A health worker inoculates the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine to a Chinese national living in Sri Lanka in Colombo on April 6, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 07 May 2021

WHO approves China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

  • Sinopharm is the sixth vaccine to receive the World Health Organization’s validation for safety, efficacy and quality
  • WHO is also evaluating China’s Sinovac COVID-19 shots and a decision on that is expected with the next few days

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Friday approved the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use — the first Chinese jab to receive the WHO’s green light.
The UN health agency signed off on the two-dose vaccine, which is already being deployed in dozens of countries around the world.
The WHO has already given emergency use listing to the vaccines being made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and the AstraZeneca jab being produced at separate sites in India and in South Korea.
“This afternoon, WHO gave emergency use listing to Sinopharm Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.
“The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, has also reviewed the available data, and recommends the vaccine for adults 18 years and older, with a two-dose schedule.”
An emergency use listing by the WHO paves the way for countries worldwide to quickly approve and import a vaccine for distribution, especially those states without an international-standard regulator of their own.
It also opens the door for the jabs to enter the COVAX global vaccine-sharing scheme, which aims to provide equitable access to doses around the world and particularly in poorer countries.
The Sinopharm vaccine is already in use in 42 territories around the world, fourth behind AstraZeneca (166), Pfizer-BioNTech (94) and Moderna (46), according to an AFP tally.
Besides China, it is being used in Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Seychelles, among others.
A clutch of other vaccines are on the road toward WHO emergency use listing, including a second Sinopharm product being made in Wuhan — the city where coronavirus was first detected.
A decision is expected within days on Sinovac, a second Chinese-made vaccine already being used in 22 countries.
Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is the next furthest ahead in the process.


State Dept No. 2 to visit Pakistan, India after Taliban takeover

Updated 6 sec ago

State Dept No. 2 to visit Pakistan, India after Taliban takeover

  • Wendy Sherman, after CIA chief Bill Burns, will be one of the first high-level officials under President Biden to visit Pakistan
  • Sherman will meet senior officials in Islamabad on October 7-8 after visit to New Delhi and Mumbai on October 6-7

WASHINGTON: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel next month to Pakistan and India, bitter rivals that have clashed on the way forward in Afghanistan, the State Department announced Monday.
Sherman, after CIA chief Bill Burns, will be one of the first high-level officials under President Joe Biden to visit Pakistan, which has long irritated the United States over its relationship with the Taliban.
Sherman will meet senior officials in Islamabad on October 7-8 after an earlier visit to New Delhi and Mumbai on October 6-7, when she will meet officials and civil society leaders and address the US-India Business council’s annual “ideas summit,” the State Department said.
The trip comes as India, one of the top allies of the Western-backed Afghan government that collapsed last month, urges the world to pay closer attention to Pakistan’s role in the turmoil .
Pakistan was the primary backer of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, and has been accused by US officials of keeping the insurgents alive through covert support. Islamabad vehemently denies the charge.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post, called his country a “convenient scapegoat.”
“In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans,” he wrote, elaborating on themes in his address Friday to the UN General Assembly.
He urged the world to engage the Taliban government “to ensure peace and stability.”
Biden, who like his predecessors has called for strong relations with India, has yet to speak to Khan, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of UN meetings last week and thanked Islamabad for help in evacuating Americans from Afghanistan.


No one from Afghanistan will address world leaders at UN

Updated 53 min 24 sec ago

No one from Afghanistan will address world leaders at UN

  • Ambassador for the government ousted by the Taliban, who was due to speak on Monday, withdraws his name
  • Move comes amid competing claims for Afghanistan’s UN seat in New York after Taliban seized power last month

UNITED NATIONS: No representative from Afghanistan will address the annual high-level UN General Assembly in New York after the ambassador for the government ousted by the Taliban — who was due to speak on Monday — withdrew his name.
The move comes amid competing claims for Afghanistan’s UN seat in New York after the Taliban seized power last month.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week asked to address the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations and nominated the Islamist group’s Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s UN ambassador.
Ghulam Isaczai is the current UN ambassador, who represents Afghanistan’s government ousted by the Taliban, and has also asked to renew his accreditation. He was scheduled to address the final day of the high-level UN gathering on Monday, but withdrew late on Sunday, diplomats said.
Isaczai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rival claims have also been made for Myanmar’s UN seat after a military coup in February ousted the elected government. No representative from Myanmar will address the high-level General Assembly meeting.
UN accreditation issues are dealt with by a nine-member committee, whose members include the United States, China and Russia. It traditionally meets in October or November.
Until a decision is made by the credentials committee on both Afghanistan and Myanmar, Isaczai and Myanmar’s UN envoy representing the ousted government, Kyaw Moe Tun, will remain in the seats, according to the General Assembly rules.


Pakistani PM breaks ground to revive Karachi Circular Railway

Updated 58 min 12 sec ago

Pakistani PM breaks ground to revive Karachi Circular Railway

  • KCR, worth Rs20.7 billion, will have 16 stations and 24 level crossings
  • KCR was main mode of transportation in 70s and 80s but had to be shut down in 1999

KARACHI: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday performed the groundbreaking to revive the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), which is aimed at easing commutes in Karachi, a metropolis of 15 million people that is known for its lack of transport facilities. 
The KCR, worth Rs20.7 billion, will have 16 stations and 24 level crossings, connecting major neighborhoods of the city through trains along a 29-kilometer track. The project was partially launched last year. 
Karachi ranks as having the worst public transport system globally, according to a 2019 study by car-parts company Mister Auto that looked at 100 major cities. It serves about 42 percent of Karachi’s commuters, relying on decades-old, overcrowded buses that use the roof as a second deck for passengers at times. This despite the city being home to Pakistan’s main ports and the regional headquarters for companies such as Standard Chartered Plc and Unilever Plc, helping it generate half of the nation’s tax revenue.
Khan said Karachi as the nation’s financial heart could attract investment from across the world, but the provision of basic infrastructure like public transport was a prerequisite, saying the KCR project would “shift the burden from Karachi’s roads.” 
“Despite political differences, we will have to move along for the sake of country and Sindh. All this is inter-linked,” he said, referring to ongoing political squabbles between his ruling PTI party and the Pakistan People’s Party which rules Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital.
“Some things the federal government cannot do alone, while others Sindh government cannot do solely without support from the federal government,” Khan added. 

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the groundbreaking ceremony of Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) infrastructure project in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy: PID)

Commissioned in 1964, the KCR was originally designed to help the employees of Pakistan Railways travel between their workplaces and residences in Karachi’s eastern neighborhoods.
The service later turned into a full circle of 44 kilometers in 1970 and connected Karachi’s four main work areas — the port, the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate, the city’s central commercial areas such as Saddar, and the Landhi Industrial Area.
It remained the means of transportation till 1984 when the number of trains was reduced, but a lack of maintenance and repair and a growing gap between expenditure and revenue led to the service being shut down in 1999.
In March 2020, the Supreme Court ordered authorities to revive the rail transit project.
Earlier on Monday, Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati said in a statement that the KCR project would be completed in three years at a cost of Rs20.7 billion. 


Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against dollar

Updated 27 September 2021

Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against dollar

  • Greenback closes at historic high of Rs169.6
  • Rupee has cumulatively lost 11.38 percent since May 14

KARACHI: The Pakistani rupee broke a stability streak and lost 51 paisas to hit an all-time low against the dollar in the interbank market on Monday.
The greenback reached a historic high of Rs169.6 at the close of Monday’s trading session, according to the State Bank of Pakistan’s data. It stood at 169.08 at the end of last week. 
The last time the Pakistani currency touched a record low was on September 15, dropping to Rs169.12 against the dollar. 
With the fresh fall of 0.31 percent, the rupee has cumulatively lost 11.38 percent (Rs17.33) of its value since May 14, when the US dollar was as low as Rs152.27. 
Pakistan’s currency traders and analysts blame a rising import bill and the Afghanistan situation among other factors for the ongoing depreciation of the national currency. 
“Due to higher commodity prices, supply chain bottlenecks and uncertain situation in Afghanistan, demand for US dollar is higher than supply,” Samiullah Tariq, the Pakistan-Kuwait Investment Company’s head of research, told Geo.tv news website. 
The country’s central bank has also stayed away from the currency market, saying it wants to adhere to a market-based exchange rate policy. Previously, the SBP used to sell dollars in the market to stabilize the currency. 
As the central bank was following a flexible exchange rate, the exchange rate parity was going in favor of the US currency due to higher demand, Tariq added. 


Pakistan seeks cabinet approval for visas on arrival for 15 countries, including US, Iran

Updated 27 September 2021

Pakistan seeks cabinet approval for visas on arrival for 15 countries, including US, Iran

  • In 2019, Pakistan first announced it would offer visas on arrival to visitors from 50 countries, electronic visas to 175 nationalities
  • Pakistan approves issuing e-passports to Pakistanis, Pakistan would be first country in region to introduce the facility

ISLAMABAD: Interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Monday a plan to grant visas on arrival to nationals of 15 countries, including the United States, Canada, France and Iran, would be sent to the cabinet for approval tomorrow, Tuesday. 

In 2019, Pakistan first announced it would loosen travel restrictions in the hope of reviving tourism by offering visas on arrival to visitors from 50 countries and electronic visas to 175 nationalities. 

“Tomorrow, we are sending for approval to cabinet visa on arrival for 15 countries,” Ahmed told a weekly press briefing. “First there were 50 countries that were getting on arrival visas. Now it will be 65 countries.” 

He said the interior ministry had also approved issuing e-passports to Pakistani citizens, saying Pakistan would be the first country in the region to introduce the facility:

“In today’s meeting, it is decided to go for the e-passport. So that Pakistan should become first country in this region, so that we switch to e-passport as quickly as possible.”

The minister said 15 new security features were being introduced to make the Pakistani passport “more secure,” adding that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) would review and verify all records to purge them of fake entries. 

He added that the government had installed an Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) at the Torkham and Chaman borders with Afghanistan to keep a check on people entering and leaving the country. 

“The good news is that the number of Afghans going back is greater than the people coming in from Afghanistan,” he said.