‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

A mother and son wearing facemask sit in a local transport outside a bus station in Islamabad on April 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2021

‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

  • Pakistan to increase testing in high risk areas, launch booster shot program for high-risk segments of population
  • Detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments world over scrambled to impose new travel curbs

ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the national pandemic response body, the NCOC, said on Monday it was “impossible” for Pakistan to block the Omicron coronavirus variant from entering the country and the only protection against it was to increase vaccinations.
The detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs and financial markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.
In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19, including vaccines.
Addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, Umar stressed the need for citizens to get vaccinated, saying the government would take new measures to protect against the Omicron variant. These include increased testing in high risk areas, and the launch of a booster shot program for high-risk segments of the population such as the elderly and the immunocompromised.
On Saturday, Pakistan banned travel from six South African countries and Hong Kong following the emergence of the new coronavirus variant.
“We can take measures to delay the entry into Pakistan of this variant, we can reduce its numbers, but it will spread all around the world,” Umar said. “As we saw before, once a new variant comes, the world is so interconnected, there is so much travel, that it is impossible to stop it. So what is the solution, what is in our hands? The answer is vaccination.”
“This is a very dangerous variant but vaccination will still be effective against it,” the minister said. "So it is my appeal to Pakistanis, particularly those who've gotten one dose, to get the second dose.”
"This variant will come to Pakistan, and we have the next 2-3 weeks to reduce its threat,” Umar added.
The Omicron variant spread around the world last week, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.
WHO has said it was not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.


Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

Updated 57 min 52 sec ago

Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

  • General Nadeem Raza says defense cooperation between the two countries will have a positive impact on regional peace and security
  • Pakistan and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2020 to enhance military cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Commander Royal Navy of Oman Rear Admiral Saif bin Nasser bin Mohsen Al-Rahbi on Tuesday met with Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza in Rawalpindi and discussed ways of improving bilateral military cooperation, the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement.
A day earlier, the Omani official held a meeting with Pakistan’s Naval Chief Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi in Islamabad to discuss bilateral defense ties.
Pakistan and Oman have always maintained a close relationship and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to increase military cooperation in October 2020.
In his meeting with General Raza, Al-Rahbi discussed “security and regional issues and matters related to enhancing the level and scope of bilateral military engagements and cooperation in various fields between the two brotherly countries,” the ISPR read.
The statement noted that General Raza “emphasized the need to further enhance the existing defense and security cooperation and said that Pakistan-Oman cooperation will have a positive impact on peace and security in the region.”
“The visiting dignitary remained appreciative of the role of the Pakistan Armed Forces in building the capacity of Oman Armed Forces. He also acknowledged the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism,” it added.
Last week, Pakistani naval ships Rah Naward and Madadgar visited Oman’s Port Sultan Bin Qaboos along with Hamza submarine as part of overseas deployment.
“During the port stay, various bilateral activities including exchange visits onboard afloat units, orientation visits of military installations and coordination meetings were undertaken,” the Pakistan Navy said.


Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the ‘attack’ near the city’s famous G-9 market 
  • TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: A policeman and two suspects were killed in a shootout in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad late Monday, in what the country’s interior minister described as a “terrorism incident.”
Two assailants opened fire at police officers standing guard near a market in G-9 sector, the police said, which triggered a shootout that killed an officer and both gunmen. Two policemen were injured in the attack, who were shifted to hospital.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Tuesday said the deceased suspects were “terrorists” and the shootout was actually an attack.
“Munawwar Shaheed, head constable, was on duty and the terrorists opened a burst on him. This wasn’t a burglary or robbery,” Ahmed said.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed places a wrath on the coffin of a policeman who lost his life in a gun attack in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (Islamabad Police)

“This is a kind of a signal we have got that terrorism incidents have begun in Islamabad. This is the first incident of this year and we need to be very alert.”

He said the authorities had located the "terrorist sleeper cell" in Misrial, a Rawalpindi neighborhood some 20 kilometers from Islamabad.

“This is purely a terrorism issue,” Ahmed added.

Policemen pay tribute beside the coffin of a police officer who was killed in an overnight gunmen attack during the funeral ceremony in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Militants have often targeted security forces in Pakistan’s southern Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, but attacks like this have been a rarity in Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the “attack” in a statement.
The TTP is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic Shariah law.
Last month, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.


Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

  • Tahir Ashrafi says they consider security and stability of UAE as Pakistan's security and stability 
  • UAE ambassador offers condolences over the death of a Pakistani in Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on the Middle East Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi on Tuesday visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Islamabad to express solidarity with the brotherly country a day after a drone attack on its capital, Abu Dhabi, by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia.

Houthi rebels on Monday attacked the Emirati capital with missiles and drones, setting off explosions in fuel trucks that killed three people, including a Pakistani national, and injured six others, and causing a fire close to the Abu Dhabi airport.

“The UAE is Pakistan's strongest friend and brother. [We] consider the security and stability of the UAE as Pakistan's security and stability,” Ashrafi told UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi.

“No force can weaken Pakistan-UAE relations,” the Pakistani PM's aide said.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi conveyed condolences from the UAE leadership over the killing of the Pakistani national, who was working for the Emirati oil giant, ADNOC.

“The injured are being fully treated and the UAE foreign ministry is in touch with the Pakistani embassy,” the UAE ambassador was quoted as saying in a statement issued from the office of the Pakistani PM's aide.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi thanked Pakistan for its solidarity and cooperation with the UAE.

Besides being a brotherly country, the UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and a major source of investment in the South Asian country.

Around 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates in the UAE contributed remittances of more than $6 billion in the last financial year.


Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

Updated 18 January 2022

Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

  • Deputy commissioner says educational institutes being closed for a period of 10 days
  • The COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, Hamza Shafqaat adds

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad have started closing schools amid a surge in coronavirus cases, the Islamabad deputy commissioner said late Monday.
The development comes as the South Asian nation reports more than 5,000 new infections in the last 24 hours. The country is battling a fifth wave of COVID-19, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron strain.
"Due to covid rise Islamabad Administration has started sealing schools for a period of ten days so that contact tracing can be done and positive cases are prevented to interact with other kids," Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said on Twitter.
The per day COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, according to the official.
He said the city's administration had also launched a crackdown on those violating the government-prescribed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of the virus.
"Please wear masks and get everyone around you vaccinated as soon as possible," the deputy commissioner urged.
Pakistan on Tuesday reported 10 deaths and 5,034 new cases of coronavirus, according to the National Command and Operation Centre, which oversees the country's pandemic response.
The overall virus positivity rate in the country stands at 9.45 percent.


PM praises Sialkot business community for financially supporting family of lynched Sri Lankan 

Updated 18 January 2022

PM praises Sialkot business community for financially supporting family of lynched Sri Lankan 

  • A mob killed Priyantha Kumara and burnt his body on Dec 3 over blasphemy allegations 
  • Local traders in Sialkot raised $100,000 for Kumara’s bereaved wife and two children 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday lauded Sialkot business community for transferring $100,000 funds and first salary to the widow of a Sri Lankan national, who was lynched in the southeastern Pakistani city in December 2021 over allegations that he had committed blasphemy.
Priyantha Kumara, who worked as a manager at a garment factory, was killed and his body set ablaze by a mob on December 3, 2021 over what police said were accusations he desecrated religious posters.
Sialkot’s business community raised $100,000 for Kumara’s bereaved wife and two children and pledged to take care of their financial needs. On Monday, the funds and the first salary was transferred into the account of Kumara’s widow.
“I want to appreciate the Sialkot business community for transferring $100,000 to account of Priyantha Kumara’s widow & Rajco Industries for transferring monthly salary of $2000 to her account — which they will do for 10 years,” PM Khan Khan said in a Twitter post.


Pakistani police had arrested dozens of people in connection with the lynching that sent shock waves across the South Asian nation and once again triggered a debate on blasphemy, which is considered a sensitive issue and carries death penalty in Pakistan.
Pakistani leaders, including PM Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said at the time Islamabad had been working closely with Sri Lankan authorities on the case.
Top Pakistani leaders had promised accountability after the Sri Lankan leadership demanded Islamabad ensure justice in the case.