Pakistan signs deal with China for 27.5 million doses as vaccine shortages reported countrywide 

People register to get a dose of the Covid-19 coronavirus Sinovac vaccine at a mass vaccination centre in Islamabad on June 3, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistan signs deal with China for 27.5 million doses as vaccine shortages reported countrywide 

  • On Thursday officials said hundreds of COVID-19 inoculation centers had been shut due to supply chain obstacles
  • Government has said it would be able to provide additional supplies to all provinces by Sunday

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has entered into an agreement with China to buy 27.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the form of prepared jabs as well as raw materials to produce shots locally in order to step up an ongoing national vaccination drive, local media reported on Friday.

On Thursday, officials said hundreds of COVID-19 vaccination centers across Pakistan had discontinued their services due to supply chain obstacles, with the government saying it would be able to provide new supplies to all provinces by Sunday. Authorities in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi also decided on Thursday to temporarily shut down a number of immunization centers due to a shortage of vaccine jabs. 

The vaccine shortage has hit the Sindh province worst, with authorities saying they had shut down at least 40 percent of inoculation centers there. People in Punjab also complained about the unavailability of vaccines in cities like Lahore, Chakwal, Jhelum and Rawalpindi alongwith and several rural areas of the province.

“The National Institute of Health (NIH) said that the [27.5 million] purchased vaccines included Sinopharm, CanSino and SinoVac,” Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported, adding that the vaccine doses would be provided in phases by December this year.

“The NIH said that the purchase agreement included 23 million doses of Sinopharm, 2 million ready-made vaccines and raw material from CanSino and 2.5 million doses of Sinovac,” the newspaper said. 

On Wednesday, Pakistani health chief Dr. Faisal Sultan said two million coronavirus vaccine doses were currently present in the nation’s inventory, adding that reported shortages at some centers around the country were only temporary. 

Sultan told Arab News last Friday Pakistan had received 14.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine since it kicked off its vaccination campaign in February and planned to buy and receive over 90 million more jabs to vaccinate its adult population in the second half of 2021.

The National Command and Operation Center, the federal government’s main body overseeing the pandemic response, said on Friday 266,959 vaccines were administered across Pakistan on Thursday, with 12,750,760 total vaccines administered so far since the vaccination drive kicked off in February. 

On June 18, the body said, the national coronavirus positive rate stood at 1.90 percent, with 1,043 infections and 39 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. 

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 24 July 2021

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

  • Mudslide in Sharag area of Balochistan province occurred after torrential rains
  • The 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed and was closed after the accident

QUETTA: A mudslide at a mine in southwestern Pakistan killed four coal miners and injured two others on Saturday following heavy monsoon rains, officials said.

Local government administrator Amir Khan said that by the time rescuers reached the area hit by the torrent, the 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed.

He said the mine, located in the Sharag area of the Harnai district, Balochistan province was ordered closed following the incident.

Such accidents are common in Pakistan’s coal mines, where safety standards are not widely respected.

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

  • FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday
  • Pakistan reiterates support for China's 'national interests' in Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea

ISLAMABAD: The foreign ministers of Pakistan and China on Saturday vowed joint efforts for the security of Beijing-sponsored infrastructure and development projects in Pakistan, after nine Chinese workers were killed in the country's northwest last week.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, made the statement as the Pakistani foreign minister is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday.

While the Pakistani foreign office said the visit is part of regular high-level exchanges between the longtime allies, it comes after the Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project were killed in a bus explosion in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Dasu project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $65 billion investment plan aiming to link Pakistan's southwestern deep-sea port of Gwadar with the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.

China had initially called it a bomb attack but backed away from the assertion after Pakistan stated it was an accident. Later Beijing sent a team to help investigate the matter jointly with Pakistani authorities.

"Both sides expressed their firm resolve to expose the culprits and their reprehensible designs through the ongoing joint investigation, give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators, ensure comprehensive safety and security of the Chinese projects, nationals and institutions, and prevent recurrence of such incidents," Qureshi and Yi said in a joint statement.

As the ministers reiterated their support for each other's "core national interests," they said "the two sides will continue to firmly advance the construction of CPEC."

Pakistan expressed its commitment to the "one China" policy of Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its province, and support to China over other disputed territories. 

"Pakistani side also expressed its firm support to China on core issues of its national interest, such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea." the statement said.

This year, Pakistan and China are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with more than 100 celebratory events, which the ministers said are "demonstrating warmth and deep sentiments of their unshakable fraternal bonds."

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

  • Decision comes as Pakistan grapples with a surge in infections fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant
  • The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people

ISLAMABAD: Coronavirus vaccination will be mandatory for passengers on Pakistan's domestic flights from Aug. 1, the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), the government's central body dealing with the pandemic, announced on Saturday.

The decision comes as the country is grappling with a surge in infection cases fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant of the coronavirus, which officials have reported is reaching alarming levels in the country's major cities.

Officials have also raised concerns the delta variant could have spread during last week's Eid Al-Adha holiday as people traveled to and from cities to their hometowns across the country.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday crossed the one million mark since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Over 1,841 new infections and 32 deaths have been reported in Pakistan in the last 24 hours.

"From August 1, a coronavirus vaccination certificate is required for domestic air travel," the NCOC said in a statement.

The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people.

Pakistan last month started easing wide-ranging coronavirus restrictions as infection numbers showed a steady decline. As they are now increasing again, local authorities are imposing new curbs and seeking new ways to accelerate vaccination.

Sindh province, were reports from the megacity Karachi said last week some public and private sector hospitals have reached capacity, will impose new restrictions from Monday, closing educational institutions, places of worship, and banning mass gatherings.

As 85 percent of coronavirus patients seeking treatment in Sindh were unvaccinated, according to the province's COVID-19 taskforce, to speed up vaccination the local government is planning sanctions against those in the province who had not received their jabs.

Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson of the Sindh government, said on Friday they would request the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block SIM cards in the cellphones of the unvaccinated.

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

Updated 24 July 2021

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

  • Pakistani Taliban or TTP, in disarray in recent years, are fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government
  • UN says the group has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes

ISLAMABAD: The recent reunification of the militant Pakistani Taliban poses a threat to the whole region, the United Nations has warned in a recent report.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an umbrella of militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and responsible for attacking military and civilian targets especially in the country's borderlands with Afghanistan.

It has been designated a terrorist group by the United States but been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or to flee to urban Pakistan.

Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves northwestern Pakistan, the group struck an alliance in July last year with half a dozen small militant factions. Since then, the TTP has stepped up attacks on security forces in the region, raising fears of a revival of their insurgency with support from the Afghan Taliban, especially as US forces continue to pull out of war-torn Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban capture more territory.

While the Afghan Taliban have on several occasions said they would not allow the militant Pakistan Taliban — which they say are a separate entity —to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan, according to the UN the group's cross-border activity has been on the rise.

"Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to pose a threat to the region with the unification of splinter groups and increasing cross-border attacks. TTP has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes," the UN Monitoring Team said in the report released on earlier this week.

A United Nations report in July last year said more than 6,000 Pakistani militants were hiding in Afghanistan, most belonging to the TTP.

The report said the group had linked up with the Afghan-based affiliate of the Islamic State group or Daesh, which had its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.

The TTP has claimed responsibility for many high-profile assaults in Pakistan, including an armed attack on a school in Peshawar in 2014 in which 134 children and 19 adults were killed. The TTP also claimed the 2012 shooting of then teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted for her campaign against Taliban efforts to deny girls education.

Pakistan began fencing its 2,600 km porous border with Afghanistan in 2017 to prevent militants crossing into the country and says it has completed nearly 90 percent of the work.

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

Updated 24 July 2021

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

  • Saudi FM will arrive on July 27 to meet Pakistani leaders and review progress on agreements signed during PM Khan's Riyadh visit
  • PM Khan visited Saud Arabia in May to sign several deals on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, will arrive in Islamabad on an official visit on July 27, Pakistani government and Saudi embassy officials confirmed on Saturday.

It will be Prince Faisal's second state visit to Pakistan within a year. He was in Islamabad in December 2020 for talks with Pakistani leadership.

“The Saudi foreign minister is expected in Islamabad on a day-long visit during the next week, during which bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields would be reviewed,” Prime Minister Imran Khan's special assistant on the Middle East, Tahir Ashrafi, told Arab News, while a Saudi embassy official said Prince Faisal is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

"Saudi foreign minister is visiting Pakistan on July 27," the embassy official said, adding the visit is a continuation of "high-level engagements between the two countries which started with the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom."

The crown prince was in Islamabad on a high-profile visit in February 2019, during which Saudi Arabia signed investment deals with Pakistan worth $20 billion.

PM Khan visited Riyadh in May, with an entourage of Pakistan's top officials to sign several agreements on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation.

According to Ashrafi, progress on the agreements will be reviewed during Prince Faisal's upcoming visit, which "will also focus on future cooperation between the two countries."