National Institute of Health to get results of Pakistan’s suspected omicron cases today

A health official collects a swab sample from a person to test for the COVID-19 in Karachi on September 14, 2020. (AFP/ FILE)
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Updated 13 December 2021

National Institute of Health to get results of Pakistan’s suspected omicron cases today

  • Pakistani health officials said last week they detected the country’s first suspected case of omicron in Karachi
  • Much remains unknown about the omicron strain, which was first detected in southern Africa last month

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health (NIH) has said results of samples of three suspected cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus would be received by Monday, today, local media said.
Pakistani health officials said last week they had detected the country’s first suspected case of the new omicron coronavirus variant in the southern port city of Karachi.
Much remains unknown about the omicron strain, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been found in at least two dozen countries since. The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to boost health care capacity and vaccinate people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the new variant.
“Though we get result of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test the same day, genome sequencing which is done to confirm the exact variant of the virus, is a lengthy and complicated procedure,” an NIH official told Dawn. “We will get the result by Monday. There can be a new mutation in the virus and we may find a new variant just like omicron reported in South Africa.”
A notification issued from the office of the health officer in Karachi’s East district last week said a disease surveillance and response unit had “reported the first case of new COVID-19 ‘omicron’ on 8th December 2021 @ 07:00 pm.”
The statement said the omicron variant was suspected in an unvaccinated 65-year-old woman.
“The District Rapid Response Team East Karachi was taken on board immediately for Tracing, Testing and Quarantine activity, COVID-19 Vaccination activity and other preventive measures to control the spread of infection,” the notification said.
Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho confirmed that a suspected omicron case had surfaced in Karachi, the provincial capital.
“We are right now suspecting, its genome study hasn’t been carried out but the way that virus is behaving, it appears to be omicron,” Pechuho told Arab News, identifying the patient as a 57-year-old woman.
It was unclear if the woman mentioned by Pechuho was the same as reported by the district health office.
A genomic study of the virus to confirm if it was the omicron strain would take up to two weeks, Pechuho said.
She said the patient was unvaccinated and requested the public to get inoculated as well as get booster shots if six months had passed since they were first vaccinated.
“This could save you,” she added.
However, the National Institutes of Health said the sample “is not yet confirmed to be omicron via whole-genome sequencing, which is to be performed after obtaining the sample.”
“However, in the light of the global situation, the public is strongly urged to get vaccinated at the earliest,” the NIH added.
The development comes days after Pakistan banned flight arrivals from nine more countries over fears surrounding the omicron strain.
The countries that Pakistan added to its ‘Category C’ list for travel, which means a “complete ban on inbound travel,” included Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland and Zimbabwe.
South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia as well as Hong Kong were already banned late last month.


In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

Updated 11 sec ago

In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill was arrested last Tuesday over televised comments media regulator says were ‘seditious’
  • Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeks judicial inquiry into alleged torture of Gill during police custody

ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital on Wednesday remanded Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, in police custody for two days for investigation in a sedition case.

Gill was arrested last Tuesday afternoon, a day after he made a controversial comment in a talk show aired by a private news channel, asking army officers not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

The country’s national media regulator described the statement as “seditious” and said it was tantamount of inciting revolt within the military. The regulator also issued a show-cause notice to the channel, ARY News, for airing the “illegal” content. The channel has since been off air. 

Last Friday, after Gill had been in police custody for two days, the court sent him to jail on judicial remand, rejecting a request by the police to extend the suspect’s physical remand. Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon filed a plea in the Islamabad High Court on Saturday last week challenging the order and saying the physical remand of Gill was important to help complete the investigation.

Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi on Wednesday urged the court to allow physical remand of the suspect as investigators have yet to recover his mobile phone and conduct a polygraph test. In a rare move, the court accepted the demand for another round of police remand. 

“We are yet to investigate the person who approved the script [of what Gill said on TV show],” Abbasi told district and session judge Zeba Chaudhry during the hearing.

Gill’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar opposed the prosecution’s plea for physical remand and said he had already faced torture by police last week.

“Shahbaz Gill has been tortured in police custody,” Safdar said, referring to a previous period of physical remand, adding that Gill was blindfolded when subjected to torture: “Even his private parts were tortured in custody.”

After hearing arguments from both the sides, the judge first reserved the verdict and later announced that Gill should be handed over to police on physical remand for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry called for an independent inquiry.

“A judicial inquiry should be conducted and an independent board should be constituted on which both Shahbaz Gill and prosecution have the trust,” he told reporters.

PTI chairman Imran Khan wrote on Twitter he was “very concerned about Shahbaz Gill being sent into police remand again.”

“He is in a fragile state of mental & physical health because of the torture inflicted on him when he was abducted & taken to undisclosed location & then again at the police station,” Khan said.


Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

Updated 37 min 4 sec ago

Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

  • Cricket-obsessed Pakistan will also host Asia Cup and Champions Trophy during this period
  • Pakistan has struggled to convince international players to visit since attack on Sri Lanka team in 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will host ten test playing nations between 2023 and 2027, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said on Wednesday as it unveiled the country’s cricketing schedule under the next Future Tours Programme.

International cricket teams stopped visiting Pakistan after a 2009 attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore and Pakistan hosted most bilateral international series in the UAE.

However, international matches partially resumed in May 2015, when Zimbabwe toured the South Asian country, followed by other international teams. 

Early this year, the Australian team visited Pakistan in February for their first cricket tour in nearly 24 years and later West Indies played three one day matches in Pakistan in June.

“The PCB has scheduled around 238 days of international cricket during the four-year period comprising 27 ICC World Test Championship fixtures (13 home and 14 away), 47 One-Day Internationals (26 home and 21 home) and 56 Twenty20 Internationals (27 home and 29 away),” PCB said in a statement.

“Pakistan’s FTP 2023-2027 reflects that it will play hosts to 10 out of 12 ICC Full Member nations for the first time in more than two decades.”

Pakistan will also host major cricket events like the Asia Cup and Champions Trophy. 

“Pakistan will host the Asia Cup 2023 and triangular series in February 2025 in the lead up to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2025, respectively, it will play 11 T20Is against the Netherlands, Ireland and England in the build up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, which will be jointly hosted by the United States and the West Indies,” PCB said.

“I am sure that our cricket fans will be delighted to know that top-ranked and attractive sides such as Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will visit Pakistan to compete in matches for the ICC World Test Championship,” PCB Chief Executive Faisal Hasnain said.


Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

  • No passenger will be able to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration form
  • The global financial watchdog praised Pakistan for implementing its recommendations in its last meeting

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has made it mandatory for all incoming and outgoing passengers to fill out a currency declaration form, said an official statement on Tuesday, to meet yet another requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Pakistan has been on the international watchdog’s “grey list” of countries since 2018 due to inadequate controls over money laundering and terrorism financing.
However, the country moved closer to exiting the list in recent months after implementing FATF recommendations to strengthen its financial system.
The Paris-based international watchdog also praised Pakistani officials for making substantial progress while saying its team would soon carry out an onsite visit of the country.
The CAA notification on Tuesday said no passenger would be allowed to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration.
“For inbound flights, airlines are required to ensure in-flight announcement by the flight crew for every inbound flight for submission of subject declaration wherein the passengers will mention the currency under the regulatory requirement of FATF,” the notification informed.
“The said declaration will be deposited at the customs counter before the immigration desk at international arrival,” it added.
The CAA said airline staff and travel agents should provide a copy of the declaration form to all potential passengers who intend to be on an outbound flight while booking their tickets.
“At check-in counters, airlines are directed to issue boarding pass only once the passenger has deposited the declaration with the them,” the notification added.


Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

Updated 54 min 11 sec ago

Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

  • Miftah Ismail says cellphone manufacturers were only adding five percent value to their products
  • He points out that automobile manufacturers had not exported cars to lucrative destinations in 30 years

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail on Wednesday highlighted the structural problems of the country’s economy, saying that Pakistani companies preferred to import parts of their products instead of manufacturing them indigenously at home.

The government recently imposed a temporary ban on the import of luxury items since it was facing a massive current account deficit along with dwindling forex reserves and a rapidly depreciating currency.

The finance minister issued the statement against the same backdrop while addressing a conference of business leaders in the federal capital where he specifically mentioned the country’s cellphone and automobile manufacturers.

“We have given subsidies and 10 percent duty advantage to mobile industry to manufacture phones in Pakistan but their value addition is not more than five percent,” he said. “They get all of their parts from outside and only assemble them here. We have given double duty protection than its value addition and the same thing holds true for car manufacturing companies as well.”

Ismail noted that automobile manufacturers had been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years, but they had not exported vehicles worth a single dollar.

“Pakistani companies are selling inside the country only, though they should try to sell [their products] in rich markets of the United States, Europe and far eastern countries,” he added. “They sell locally to earn more profit because it is a protected market.”

The minister pointed out that out of Pakistan’s $30 billion exports, around $20 billion were generated by the textile sector.

“We import $80 billion worth of goods from abroad which is unsustainable,” he continued. “Our industries have to increase exports instead of only making local sales.”

Ismail also maintained that agriculture was the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, though he added it needed more innovation by adopting advanced Agri-Tech.

“My focus is to strengthen our agriculture as we have imported $450 million tons of wheat this year and more is still required,” he said.

The money spent on the import of wheat, the minister continued, could be used to support farmers and introduce latest technology in the sector.


Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

  • The interior minister met expats in Jeddah where he described overseas Pakistanis as country’s ‘assets’
  • The kingdom is home to the highest number of Pakistanis living abroad, making it the biggest source of remittances

ISLAMABAD: Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a group of Pakistani nationals in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday the government was finalizing the modalities of voting process for citizens living abroad ahead of the next general elections that are scheduled to take place in August next year.

The minister, who went to the kingdom to perform Umrah, met with representatives of Pakistani community in Jeddah where he described the overseas nationals as “the country’s assets.”

Saudi Arabia has the highest number of Pakistani expatriates, making it the top source of remittances for the South Asian country.

“The government will ensure that overseas Pakistanis manage to use their voting right in the coming elections,” the interior minister said, adding it was “finalizing the modalities of the voting procedure.”

Pakistan’s ruling coalition revoked the voting right of overseas Pakistanis in May by passing the Election Amendment Bill, 2022, which also prevented the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in general elections.

The country’s ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s administration sanctioned the use of EVMs during a joint parliamentary sitting in February, though its political rivals resisted the move and vowed to challenge it in the country’s top court.

“Overseas Pakistanis are our best national asset,” Sanaullah said. “Their remittances are key for the economic stability [of the country].”

Discussing the Pak-Saudi ties, the minister said the kingdom had always helped Pakistan in the most difficult of situations.

“We are grateful to the Saudi government for providing employment opportunities to Pakistani workers and professionals,” he added.