Pakistan’s Sindh province terms COVID-19 situation ‘alarming’ as Karachi’s positivity ratio reaches 26%

People queue up in their cars to receive a dose of the Sinopharm vaccine against coronavirus during a drive-through vaccination in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 26, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2021

Pakistan’s Sindh province terms COVID-19 situation ‘alarming’ as Karachi’s positivity ratio reaches 26%

  • Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah urges people not to leave their home ‘without valid reason’
  • The surge in COVID-19 cases in the province has been caused by the local transmission of delta variant

ISLAMABAD: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said on Tuesday his province was witnessing an “abnormal” spike in COVID-19 cases, adding that the situation in Karachi was particularly “alarming and critical” since the coronavirus positivity ratio had crossed 26 percent in the city.
“The chief minister reviewed the overall COVID-19 situation [in the province] and termed it alarming,” said an official statement released by his office after a meeting of the Provincial Task Force on Coronavirus earlier today.
The province’s health secretary Dr. Kazim Jatoi briefed the task force, saying that COVID-19 positivity ratio in Sindh had reached 12.7 percent while it was recorded in Karachi at 26.32 percent on July 26.
“This is quite a critical situation,” the chief minister said in response.
He directed the provincial health department to conduct more COVID-19 tests in Karachi and trace the contacts of infected individuals to limit the spread of the disease.
The Sindh administration announced new restrictions last week as the country grappled with a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant.
Shah observed during the meeting that “some political friends” were issuing “irresponsible statements” against the closure of markets in Sindh.
“This results in misleading the public,” he continued, adding he was taking strict measures to save people of his province from the pandemic.
The chief minister constituted a ministerial committee to sensitize all stakeholders, including shopkeepers, traders, transporters and politicians to cooperate with the government “in the supreme interest of the public health,” said the statement.
He directed the Sindh police chief and Karachi commissioner to ensure timely closure of markets, tuition centers and private gyms which are still operating.
“He urged the residents of the province to stay home and avoid going out without valid reason,” the statement read.
Pakistan on Tuesday reported 3,262 new coronavirus cases and 39 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

Last week, the country crossed the grim milestone of one million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began last year.

NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

Updated 9 sec ago

NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan series following ‘security alert’
  • PCB chairman urges cricket fans to support Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's sudden pullout from its first Pakistan series in 18 years was an "unfortunate scenario" but the hosts will come out it, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman said on Saturday.

New Zealand on Friday said it was abandoning the tour over security fears. The announcement came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003.

"It's an unfortunate scenario," PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said in a video message.

"We'll come out of it," he said. "We have experienced similar situations before, but we've always moved forward."

Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign squads after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. It has ever since managed to attract many foreign players, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"I can feel your pain," Raja said, addressing Pakistan team supporters. "I urge the fans to back the Pakistan cricket team ... support them in the World Cup."

The World Cup is scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from October 17 to November 14.

As many of the national team players have expressed their frustration at New Zealand's decision, he urged them to vent it through their performance on the field.

"My message to the cricket team is to let out your frustration, anger through performance," Raja said. "When you become the best team, everyone will want to play with you in Pakistan."

Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

Updated 55 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

  • Taliban interim government announced earlier this month includes no women or members of minority groups
  • Khan's initiative follows meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors during Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Tajikistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday he had “initiated a dialogue" with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan government to include representatives of the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

Khan said he took the initiative after his meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors and detailed discussions with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe this week, where Afghanistan has been at the top of the agenda.

“After meetings in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan’s neighbors and especially a lengthy discussion with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan govt to include Tajiks, Hazaras & Uzbeks” Khan said in the tweet.



“After 40 years of conflict, this inclusivity will ensure peace and a stable Afghanistan, which is in the interest not only of Afghanistan but the region as well,” he said in another post.



World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government acceptable to all people of Afghanistan, including women and minorities. But an all-male interim cabinet announced earlier this month, saw no members of minority groups as key positions went to veteran players of the Taliban movement, which captured Kabul on August 15.

In his address at the SCO summit on Friday, Khan said the Taliban must fulfill their promises to the international community.  

“For their part, the Taliban must fulfill the pledges made above all for inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented,” Khan said. “This is vital for Afghanistan’s stability. Also, it is important to ensure respect for the rights of all Afghans, and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists.”

'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan following ‘security alert’
  • Black Cap squad was in Pakistan for the first time since 2003

RAWALPINDI: A wave of frustration and disappointment has swept through social media with the hashtag #PAKvNZ becoming the top trend, as New Zealand on Friday abandoned its first Pakistan series in 18 years, citing security fears.

The announcement that the series had been called off came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which last week returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.

The cancellation, which followed an unspecified New Zealand government security alert, left cricket fans and officials in dismay, with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed saying that "hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour" to undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja vowed action against the decision in the International Cricket Council (ICC).

"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating," he said on Twitter. "Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC."



Many of Pakistan’s national team players also vented their upset.

"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies," Pakistan captain Babar Azam said. "Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan Cricket Fans."



Veteran cricket legends, too, felt dejected, with Shoaib Akthar saying New Zealand "just killed Pakistan cricket.”



Wasim Akram suggested "we are not hearing the whole story."

“Pakistan has proven that our security measures for international games is of the highest order, making Pakistan one of the safest places in the world to play cricket today.”



As Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009, it has already managed to attract many foreign players since, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"PSL & other teams visiting Pakistan is evidence of our hospitality & security arrangements. We will continue our efforts," bowler Shadab Khan wrote. "Pakistanis love cricket so much, we have worked really hard to bring cricket back here."



Former West Indies' skipper Daren Sammy, head coach of PSL's Peshawar Zalmi franchise, said he's been playing in Pakistan for the past six years: "I’ve always felt safe. this is a massive blow to Pakistan."



Officials, too, questioned New Zealand's move.

Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi tweeted at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem saying he is “appalled” by her support of the team’s decision to leave. “Sadly, global politics has won over the great game of cricket!" he wrote. "There were no security threats!”

The chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar, the province that has the Rawalpindi stadium in its jurisdiction, said security was "foolproof."

"Extremely disappointed & gutted by New Zealand Cricket Board's unilateral decision to call off the series."


"The brief period of international cricket seems to be over before it really began,” sports journalist and culture critic Ahmer Naqvi tweeted.  

But some others, like Islamabad United general manager Rehan Ulhaq, are more hopeful.

"Pakistan cricket will rise from the ashes just like it always has."


‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

Updated 18 September 2021

‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

  • One-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost up to £2,165, though the flights are still overbooked
  • A stranded IT professional from London says UK authorities should have ‘thought of us as British, not just Pakistanis’ to avoid playing politics on the issue

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani, who arrived in Islamabad in July to see his ailing mother but could not return to London due to the UK government’s travel restriction on Pakistan, said on Saturday he anxiously wanted to hold his daughter once again.
Imran Niazi had to leave his wife and daughter behind in Britain while traveling to Islamabad but found himself stranded here due to the UK government’s “red list” requirements which expected him to undergo a costly 10-day hotel quarantine amid rising coronavirus concerns.
UK officials decided to place Pakistan on its red list in April due to a surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases in the country and added the South Asian state to its safe list on Friday.
“I am anxiously waiting to hug my 12-year-old daughter,” Niazi told Arab News. “This was a stressful time, and thank God, the UK has eased its travel restrictions.”
He said that much of his time in Islamabad was spent making video calls to his family.
“Hopefully, I will be joining them in about two weeks,” he continued.
Almost all airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic have resumed their operations from Pakistan, but they are either fully booked or their fares have gone extremely high due to the growing travel demand to the UK.
The one-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost between £1,800 to £2,165, though it used to be around £300 before the UK travel restrictions.
“I’ll obviously wait for at least two weeks to book my flight as this fare is too high for me to afford,” Niazi said, adding his real estate and security services business in London had already been “badly affected” due to the pandemic.
All those traveling to the UK from Pakistan need to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna, otherwise they will require a booster shot of any of these vaccines before taking a flight.
Mirza Khalil Ullah, who runs a property business in Mill Hill, London, came to see his relatives in Karachi in February but got stuck in the country.
“We British-Pakistanis have got this relief after a very hard time,” he said. “I would request all Pakistanis that they should not do anything that can put us in trouble again or tarnish Pakistan’s image.”
He said he had taken the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and was planning to get a Pfizer shot before booking his flight.
Another IT professional from London, Amir Faisal Awan, was also stranded in Pakistan for the last five months due to the travel restrictions.
“It has been a horrible experience,” he said while adding that his father was suffering from dementia and could not stay in confined places.
“The British government should have thought [of] us as British and not just Pakistanis,” he complained. “They should have facilitated us instead of involving us in their political issues. I am really excited now and just want to be back with my family. It was a very bad feeling that I had my passport and ticket but could not fly back to them.”
Rafiq Saya, a businessman based in Ireland, came to Karachi to negotiate a deal but got stuck here for months.
“It has affected my business in Ireland and kept me away from my family,” he said, while welcoming the UK government’s decision to remove Pakistan from the travel red list.
“It is a great thing for everybody since we can now go back to work and be with our families again,” Saya added.

Hundreds of Afghan nationals deported from Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province — official

Updated 18 September 2021

Hundreds of Afghan nationals deported from Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province — official

  • The United Nations has urged the Pakistani authorities to accept Afghan refugees who may be at risk in their own country
  • Pakistani officials say the government has decided to crack down on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers arriving on its territory

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities have deported hundreds of Afghan nationals who illegally entered the country to take refuge in Balochistan and Sindh provinces following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, officials confirmed while talking to Arab News on Friday.
The United Nations has urged Pakistan to accept Afghan refugees who may be at risk in their country.
UN refugee commissioner Filippo Grandi recently told a group of journalists in Islamabad he was appealing to the “humanitarian spirit” in Pakistan to be sympathetic to Afghan nationals with special protection needs.
“All illegal immigrants who entered Pakistan without legal documents and were residing in Balochistan have been deported to their home country,” Liaquat Shahwani, Balochistan government’s spokesperson, informed.
Shahwani added it was the stated policy of the federal and provincial administrations to deport illegal immigrants.
Pakistan experienced the first Afghan refugee influx over four decades ago when the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
According to the UN refugee agency, 1.4 million Afghans still live in the 54 camps across the country despite the voluntary repatriation programs.
Afghan refugee settlements are also located on the outskirts of large urban centers like Karachi and Islamabad. Official estimates suggest there may be one million more unregistered Afghan nationals in the country as well.
Hundreds of new Afghan refugees arrived in Pakistan after the Taliban consolidated their political control over the neighboring state last month amid claims of strict border management by Pakistani officials. Addressing at a news conference in Karachi a few weeks ago, information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the country would not allow illegal immigrants like it did in 1979.
The Balochistan government spokesperson told Arab News that a high-level meeting on the province’s security situation was held two days ago in which the participants discussed the fresh Afghan refugee influx.
He said the meeting decided to “carry out a crackdown on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.”
“Apart from that, strict monitoring of the province’s entry points will also be ensured to prevent illegal immigrants from reaching Balochistan,” Shahwani said while refusing to share the exact number of deportees.
Kashif Haidery, a social activist in the province, said over 5,000 Afghan nationals had taken refuge in Quetta and a majority of them had either been deported or went back on their own.
“Afghan refugees arrived in Quetta after the Taliban takeover to save their lives,” he said. “Many of them faced the accommodation problem and stayed at Imambargahs and marriage halls on humanitarian grounds. Local welfare organizations provided them food on a daily basis.”
Speaking to Arab News, Zahid Pakhtun, a social activist in Balochistan, said that those entering from Afghanistan had not gone to a refugee camp in the province.
“No refugee went to the camps,” he said. “They either stayed in Quetta or moved on to Karachi since they wanted jobs or travel to the United States or Europe for asylum.”
Hundreds of Afghan nationals, who traveled to Karachi after the fall of the Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul on August 15, faced a crackdown in recent days and a substantial number of them were sent to the border for deportation.
“The police visited our camp last week and asked the elders to gather the newcomers so they could receive official aid from Pakistan,” Naeem Karimi, a youth living in a camp near Karachi told Arab News, adding that these refugees were rounded up and taken to the Chaman border in eight buses after they gathered to get the government’s assistance.
Saqib Ismail, deputy inspector general of police in Karachi’s district east, where most of the refugees reside, confirmed that illegal immigrants were deported, though he did not share their exact number.
Khairullah Khan, an Afghan refugee who arrived in Karachi with his parents, wife, two sisters and four children from Mazar-i-Sharif earlier this month, said his family had escaped deportation for the time being since he could not reach the camp on time.
“We are here without legal documents and the police are chasing us,” he continued. “The efforts we did and the hardships we faced during our long and painful journey will go in vain if we are sent back.”
Khan said the Afghan nationals arriving in Pakistan should be allowed to stay until the political uncertainty comes to an end in the neighboring country.
“The economic condition has badly deteriorated in Afghanistan,” he added. “None of us crossed the border to be sent back. We are getting two pieces of bread in our meals in Pakistan but at least our lives are safe here.”