Pakistan's Sindh makes booster dose compulsory after new COVID-19 variant discovery

A man receives a dose of vaccine against the coronavirus, during a drive-through vaccination in Karachi, Pakistan, on August 3, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 28 November 2021

Pakistan's Sindh makes booster dose compulsory after new COVID-19 variant discovery

  • Omicron strain spread across globe on Sunday shutting borders and renewing curbs
  • The highly infectious strain has cast doubt on global efforts to battle the pandemic

KARACHI: The government in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province has decided to make a booster dose of coronavirus vaccine compulsory for the fully vaccinate people after the discovery of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19, local media reported on Sunday. 
The new, heavily mutated COVID-19 variant spread across the globe on Sunday, shutting borders and renewing curbs as the European Union chief said governments faced a “race against time” to understand the strain. 
Indonesia announced similar entry restrictions on Sunday and Angola became the first southern African country to suspend all flights from its regional neighbors Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. 
The Omicron strain has cast doubt on global efforts to battle the pandemic because of fears that it is highly infectious, forcing countries to reimpose measures many had hoped were a thing of the past. 
On Sunday, the Sindh health department announced that fully vaccinated individuals would be administered a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine to prevent the spread of the new virus strain, Urdu-language Jang newspaper reported. 
“Booster jabs are currently being administered at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center and Dow University of Health Sciences Ojha Campus [in Karachi], but the scale of vaccination will be expanded across the province,” the report quoted Sindh Health Secretary Zulfiqar Ali Shah as saying. 
No fee would be charged for the administration of the booster jab and the government was importing consignments of the vaccine for the purpose, the official said. 
Shah requested fully vaccinated individuals to get the booster jab and advised those who were yet to get the basic vaccination to get themselves fully immunized against the virus. 
The development came a day after Pakistan imposed a complete ban on travel from seven countries after the emergence of the Omicron strain in South Africa. These countries included South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana. 
The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the country’s central pandemic body, has asked aviation authorities to devise a mechanism for the screening of passengers traveling from these states through indirect flights. 
It said Pakistani passengers would be allowed to travel after obtaining emergency exemptions and following certain requirements, including a vaccination certificate, negative PCR report and rapid antigen test on arrival. 

Forensics found Zahir Jaffer’s shirt stained with Noor Mukadam’s blood — Islamabad police

Updated 17 sec ago

Forensics found Zahir Jaffer’s shirt stained with Noor Mukadam’s blood — Islamabad police

  • Mukadam was found beheaded at an upscale residence in Islamabad in July 2021
  • Investigating officer earlier said no evidence Jaffer killed her except for forensics

ISLAMABAD: A forensic analysis revealed that the shirt of Zahir Jaffer, the prime accused in the grisly murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in July last year, had been stained with the blood of the victim, the Islamabad police said on Tuesday, as they sought to explain an earlier statement of the investigating officer in the case. 
Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded at a residence in Islamabad’s upscale F-7/4 neighborhood, in a case that has sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent crime against women. The prime accused was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder and has since been in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail. 
The case is now in the concluding stage in an Islamabad district court, where additional sessions judge Atta Rabbani has been conducting the hearings. Eyewitnesses have recorded their statements in the case and defense attorneys are now cross-examining them. 
In Monday’s proceedings, Jaffer’s counsel, Sikandar Zulqarnain, cross-examined the investigating officer, Inspector Abdul Sattar, to point out weaknesses and loopholes in his testimony. Inspector Sattar said Jaffer’s fingerprints were not found on the knife recovered from the crime scene, while his pants did not contain any blood stains either. The investigating officer’s statement compelled the Islamabad inspector general (IG) to review progress in the case at a high-level huddle, followed by the issuance of an explanation by the capital’s police. 
“The pant was not stained with blood, but the shirt of the accused was stained with blood of the victim Noor Mukadam, as per PFSA (Punjab Forensic Science Agency) report,” the Islamabad police said in a statement, adding that Monday’s court proceedings were “misinterpreted” in some media reports. 
The police, however, maintained that Jaffer’s fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon. 
“The knife recovered from the crime scene was taken into custody, sealed by NFSA (National Forensic Science Agency) and sent to PFSA for fingerprints, which could not be developed by the latter,” the statement read. 
“But the report confirmed blood of Noor Mukadam on the knife.” 
Explaining why was not a photogrammetry test of Mukadam conducted, the Islamabad police said the test is conducted for the identification of the accused, so that he could not negate his presence at the crime scene. 
“The detailed report of the PFSA is yet to be read on the next hearing, which contains comprehensive forensic evidence, sufficient for the conviction of the accused,” the police statement read further. 
“The crime scene was visited by senior most officers at the time of occurrence and was completely preserved by forensic experts of National Forensic Science Agency.” 
The PFSA report confirmed that Mukadam was raped before being murdered, while investigators found Jaffer’s DNA i.e. skin under her nails as well as the blood-stained knuckleduster from the crime scene, it added. 
On Monday, Jaffer had walked into the courtroom along with police officials unlike his previous appearances in a chair or on a stretcher. He had remained seated on the floor of the courtroom during the hearing. 
Others charged in the case include Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, their three-household staff, Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, and six workers from Therapy Works, a counselling center from where Jaffer had received certification to become a therapist and where he had been receiving treatment in the weeks leading up to the murder. 
The court will resume hearing the case on Wednesday. 

Pakistan raises $1bln, offers highest-ever rate for a sukuk of 7.95%

Updated 25 January 2022

Pakistan raises $1bln, offers highest-ever rate for a sukuk of 7.95%

  • The issuance comes at a time when Pakistan’s gross foreign reserves have fallen to nearly $17 billion from $19 billion in the past two weeks 
  • An IMF review board is meeting on Jan. 29 to approve a $1 billion tranche of a $6 billion loan signed with Pakistan in 2019 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has raised $1 billion with a 7-year sukuk, offering an interest rate of 7.95 percent, the highest return the South Asian nation has ever paid on an Islamic bond, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.
The issuance comes at a time when Pakistan’s gross foreign reserves have fallen to nearly $17 billion from $19 billion in the past two weeks due to debt repayments.
Ministry spokesman Muzammil Aslam said international debt markets worldwide had suffered shocks since December due to expected increases in interest rates in the United States and Europe.
“So given the situation, we have got the good deal in this uncertain time,” he told Reuters.
Pakistan sees foreign funds inflows as critical given that its external account deficit has widened on back of soaring global commodity prices — in particular oil, which makes up about a third of the country’s payments.
Foreign exchange reserves are also a key buffer to stabilize the rupee. Pakistan only last year adopted a market-based exchange rate, resulting in a sharp depreciation of the rupee.
An IMF review board is meeting on Jan. 29 to approve a $1 billion tranche of a $6 billion loan signed with Pakistan in 2019.
The last sukuk Pakistan issued was a five-year sukuk in 2017 at a rate of 5.6 percent.

New tax regulations make imported phones around 30% costlier in Pakistan

Updated 25 January 2022

New tax regulations make imported phones around 30% costlier in Pakistan

  • Pakistan imposed uniform 17% sales tax on around 150 items, including imported phones, to meet IMF conditions
  • Local manufacturing increased to 24.66 million units in 2021, Pakistan imported 24.51 million phones in 2020

KARACHI: Pakistan’s imposition of new tax regulations has made imported high-end mobile phones around 30 percent costlier, but record local assembling has largely absorbed the impact, dealers and manufacturers said on Tuesday. 

Pakistan recently imposed a uniform 17 percent sales tax on around 150 items, including imported mobile phones, to meet one of the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of the stalled $6 billion loan program. 

Apart from imposing 17 percent sales tax, the government also increased the fixed tax rate on the import of mobile phones valued more than $200.   

Imported phones valued between $200 and $350 will now be subject to Rs14,661 fixed tax and 17 percent sales tax, while handsets costing above $500 would be subject to Rs37,007 fixed duty and 17 percent sales tax, according to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

The fixed tax is slightly less for those who purchase phones on passports within 60 days of their arrival in Pakistan.  

“The phone (iPhone 11 pro max) that was available for around Rs165,000 will now be available for around Rs230,000 after adding fixed tax and 17% sales tax,” Shahzad Ahmed, a mobile phone dealer at the Saddar mobile market in Karachi, told Arab News. 

Mobile phone dealers said the budgetary impact on consumers was minimal as such high-end mobile phone penetration was very low in the country. 

“Due to the availability of local alternatives for buyers, the sales impact is negligible as only high-end mobile phone prices have been increased, which are being used by quite a few consumers,” said Malik Khalid Iqbal, chairman of the All Pakistan Mobile Dealers' Association.   

But the dealers resented sudden imposition of higher duty and tax, calling on the government to revisit the decision. 

“They should have given time but it was implemented without that,” Rizwan Irfan, president of the Karachi Electronic Appliances Dealers’ Association, told Arab News.  

“Many dealers who have booked phones and consignments that are in transition will become costlier and may not fetch the right price, so the government should revisit its decision.”  

For the first time, Pakistan has surpassed imports and achieved self-reliance in local assembling of mobile phones of almost all major brands except iPhone.   

The South Asian country manufactured 24.66 million mobile phones in 2021, compared to the import of 10.26 million, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). In 2020, the country imported 24.51 million phones, compared to locally manufactured 13.05 million.  

“After the start of Samsung's production, 80% of all mobile phones are being assembled in Pakistan,” Aamir Allawala, senior vice-chairman of Pakistan Mobile Phone Manufacturers’ Association (PMPMA), told Arab News.  

“This will go up to 90 percent, when Xiaomi starts local production in March.”  

Manufacturers said tax on locally assembled phones was quite nominal as compared to the imported high-end devices. 

“On locally assembled phones below $100, the tax rate is only Rs20 per unit,” Allawala said. “Tax on phones costing between $100 and $200 is only Rs420 a unit. The sales tax and excise levy is little higher for the phones valued above $200, but definitely below 10% of total tax incidence.” 

Tax on locally assembled phones ranging between $350 and $500 is Rs13,210 and Rs26,380 for devices valued above $500, according to dealers and manufacturers.   

They said since 80% phones were being locally produced, there was no impact for buyers in terms of pricing. 

“On the other hand, iPhones and high-end Galaxy phones that are still not assembled locally have to face a price hike. This is very logical and fair in my opinion,” Allawala said.   

He ruled out the possibility of iPhone assembling in Pakistan, saying, “Only 10,000-15,000 iPhones are imported every month and at this volume, I don’t think local assembling is possible. iPhone will be manufactured only when its export would be made possible and for that, Pakistan’s ecosystem is at a nascent stage.”  

Mobile phone manufacturing became possible in Pakistan only after the launch of Device Identification Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) in 2018. The system is designed to identify non-compliant devices operating on local mobile networks. 

The country is still paying high bills for the import of mobile phones. It recorded mobile phone imports worth $2 billion in the last fiscal year, while these imports crossed $1 billion mark from July till December this fiscal year, according to data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Islamabad repatriates 20 Indian fishermen arrested for entering Pakistani waters

Updated 25 January 2022

Islamabad repatriates 20 Indian fishermen arrested for entering Pakistani waters

  • Pakistan says expects New Delhi to ‘reciprocate the gesture in the same spirit’ 
  • Pakistani, Indian authorities frequently arrest fisherfolk over territorial violations 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has repatriated 20 Indian fishermen, who were arrested for entering the country’s territorial waters, to India, the Pakistani foreign office said on Tuesday.
Pakistani and Indian maritime agencies frequently arrest fisherfolk on charges of illegally entering each other’s territorial waters for fishing.
These 20 fishermen, kept in Karachi’s Landhi Jail, were released on Sunday and handed over to Indian officials at the Wagah border crossing the next day.
“These prisoners have been released on completion of their sentences,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement. “The issue of prisoners is of humanitarian nature and Pakistan expects the government of India to reciprocate the gesture in the same spirit.”
According to the provisions of the 2008 Consular Access Agreement between Pakistan and India, both countries are required to exchange lists of prisoners in each other’s custody every year on January 1 and July 1.
A list of prisoners shared by Islamabad on January 1 this year suggested that at least 628 Indian prisoners were held in Pakistan, including 577 fishermen and 51 civilians, according to the Pakistani foreign office.
The Indian government also simultaneously shared a list of 355 Pakistani prisoners in India, including 282 civilians and 73 fishermen, with the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi.

Pakistan's COVID-19 positivity ratio above 10% for sixth consecutive day

Updated 25 January 2022

Pakistan's COVID-19 positivity ratio above 10% for sixth consecutive day

  • Omicron-driven fifth wave of infections continues to sweep the South Asian nation
  • The country reported 17 fatalities and 6,357 new infections in the last 24 hours

ISLAMABAD: The coronavirus positivity ratio in Pakistan remained above 10 percent for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, with the omicron-driven fifth wave of infections sweeping the South Asian nation. 

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which oversees the country's pandemic response, recorded the virus positivity rate at 12.81 percent on Tuesday. 

The South Asian nation reported 17 fatalities and 6,357 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, according to official figures. 

Pakistan is currently battling the fifth wave of the pandemic, as officials maintain the fresh surge in the number of cases has been driven by the highly transmissible omicron strain. 

Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, last week urged people not to take the omicron strain lightly. 

“More than two thousand people dying of covid daily in the US. So, when you hear omicron is mild, it can still kill you,” he said in a Twitter post. 

The minister said latest research showed booster dose provided significant protection against the disease. “So if it’s been 6 months since 2nd dose, get a booster,” he urged people. 

Pakistan has so far administered at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 103,805,835 people, according to official figures.  

Over 80 million individuals have been fully vaccinated in the country.