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

A man looks inside from a closed gate of a school sealed by authorities as some teachers and students tested positive for the Covid-19 Coronavirus in Islamabad on October 5, 2020. (AFP/File)
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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.

Pakistan revives pandemic response body after omicron sub-variant detected

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan revives pandemic response body after omicron sub-variant detected

  • The National Command and Operations Center was closed in March as COVID-19 cases steadily declined
  • NCOC will resume operations under the chair of the federal minister for national health services

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has reconstituted its central pandemic response body, established after the country reported its first COVID-19 case over two years ago, an official statement released by the Prime Minister Office in Islamabad said on Monday.
The decision to reactivate the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) was taken by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif earlier this month after Pakistan detected a new omicron sub-variant earlier this month in a passenger arriving from Qatar.
The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains.
The NCOC was shut down last March amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases in Pakistan.
"Under the directions form the Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the National Command and Operational Center (NCOC) has been reconstituted at National Institutes of Health, Islamabad Pakistan," the notification said.
It said all concerned ministries and directorates would remain engaged in NCOC operations and functions as per the requirement.
The body will be chaired by the federal minister for national health services, the notification informed.
"NCOC will extend its operations for prevention, detection, surveillance, and response to public health emergencies at national level as well as facilitate coordination with all provinces and regions," the statement said.

Finance minister vows to return from Doha after finalizing resumption of IMF loan program

Updated 56 sec ago

Finance minister vows to return from Doha after finalizing resumption of IMF loan program

  • Pakistan has been facing an economic crunch, amid rising imports and depleting forex reserves 
  • The South Asian country is expected to receive another $1 billion if it reaches agreement with IMF 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Monday promised to return from Doha, Qatar after “finalizing” the resumption of $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan program, as the South Asian country desperately looks for ways to shore up its economy.

The IMF approved a three-year, $6 billion loan package for Pakistan in July 2019 to rein in mounting debts and stave off a looming balance-of-payment crisis, in exchange for tough austerity measures.

Pakistan and the IMF are currently negotiating the country’s seventh review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which has so far disbursed $3 billion. Islamabad is expected to receive another $1 billion after the completion of the review, which has been stalled since the previous government announced in February around $1.7 billion relief in energy prices.

“I want to tell the nation that God willing, I will return after finalizing an agreement with the IMF,” Ismail told reporters in Karachi, before leaving for Doha.

“Will bring some positive news from the IMF.”

Pakistan has been facing an economic crunch due to an increase in the current account deficit and depleting foreign exchange reserves, which in turn have been mounting pressure on the national currency.

Last week, the Pakistani rupee hit another historic low as the United States (US) dollar reached Rs200 in the interbank market, amid rising demand for import payments and uncertainty surrounding the IMF talks.

Ismail regretted the fact that the talks with the IMF were being held in Doha instead of Islamabad, for which he blamed former prime minister Imran Khan, who has announced an anti-government march on the Pakistani federal capital on May 25.

“You are holding sit-ins, doing political point-scoring, but this genuinely harms the country,” he said.

“Today, IMF is not in Pakistan and I am going to have to go to Doha because you announced a sit-in.”

The finance minister reiterated the government would not roll back energy subsidies as demanded by the IMF.

He said he would listen to the IMF’s conditions and discuss them with the prime minister upon his return.

Amid economic meltdown, Pakistan’s auto manufacturers expect 40 percent decline in sales

Updated 42 min 14 sec ago

Amid economic meltdown, Pakistan’s auto manufacturers expect 40 percent decline in sales

  • Toyota has invested $100 million to produce hybrid vehicles, says another $80 million are in pipeline
  • Manufacturers expect highest sale of 350,000 units in Pakistan’s history during the current fiscal year

MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistan’s auto manufacturers fear their sales will squeeze by about 40 percent in the next fiscal year after achieving the highest ever growth during the ongoing one, as the country finds itself in a major downward economic spiral which is hurting the auto sector.
Pakistan witnessed 18 percent decline in car sales, from 22,799 to 18,625 units, in April due to restrictions on car financing imposed by the central bank along with increased import duties to curtail current account deficit.
The sector posted 51 percent growth during the current fiscal year beginning in July 2021 by selling 191,237 units, the Pakistan Automotive Manufacturers Association’s (PAMA) data show.
“The current economic situation is hurting the auto industry to a large extent,” Ali Asghar Jamali, chief executive officer of the Indus Motor Company (IMC) told Arab News on Friday during an auto industry workshop held in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The IMC, which manufactures Toyota vehicles, arranged the workshop to highlight the localization level achieved by the auto industry while gauging the impact of auto policies on the sector.
“The automobile market will fall by 30-40 percent in the next fiscal year [FY22-23],” he said. “However, the market will be of around 350,000 units this year which will be the highest ever in the history of Pakistan due to the current orders placed.”

Ali Asghar Jamali, chief executive officer of Indus Motor Company, addresses an auto industry workshop in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, on May 20, 2022. (AN Photo)

Jamali, who is also the former chairman of PAMA, said the total number of cars sold in the next year was likely to be between 200,000 and 215,000.
Pakistan has imposed a ban on the import of non-essential luxury goods, including vehicles, in a bid to stabilize the economy after its current account deficit spiraled out of control. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have also witnessed a decline while its national currency is trading at low levels against the US dollar.
Supporting the government’s decision to ban import of luxury goods, Jamali said Pakistan’s auto sector required consistent policies.
“The future of Pakistan’s auto sector is bright but at present the country is facing a crisis situation and we have to get out of it,” he said. “We have a major current account deficit due to a high import bill and in the current situation the country will have to take tough decisions. We need to device a sustainable policy to avoid crisis-like situation after every two years.”
Pakistan’s auto sector has witnessed an inclusion of two new entrants and made an investment of about $2 billon since 2016 while providing 2.5 million employment opportunities. The sector contributes 2.2 percent to the overall economy of the country.
“The new entrants have made substantial investment in the sector,” Jamali said. “We [the IMC] have already invested $100 million to make Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) in Pakistan and another $70-$80 million are in the pipeline.”
“We have invested Rs15-18 billion in plant expansion during the last five years to introduce new models in Pakistan,” he added. “Pakistan’s auto market is still very attractive and what we need is to fix our fundamentals and improve it.”
The IMC chief, who is planning to launch locally assembled hybrid vehicles in Pakistan from next year, said his company was gradually moving toward complete electric vehicles (EVs) with improvement in infrastructure development in the country.
“I agree that the ultimate future is electric vehicle but we think that first it would be hybrid and then it would move into the next stage that is completely electric because at present there is no infrastructure for EVs,” he said, adding: “In the next five to seven years, share of renewable energy in the overall energy mix will improve and the infrastructure for EVs will be available so our strategy is to first bring in hybrid and then move on to the EVs.”
Pakistani auto manufacturers have recently increased prices of the vehicles between seven to 55 percent due to the rise in freight charges by about 252-272 percent, foreign exchange by 24 percent, and 18 to 80 percent rise in the prices of other related goods, according to a presentation given during the workshop.
“The whole world has witnessed unprecedented inflationary pressures in the last couple of years and Pakistan is no exception,” Jamali said. “The pandemic resulted in the disruption of global supply chain which was further aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”
“The rupee-dollar disparity, exponential increase in utilities, overwhelming freight charges and government taxation of up to 40 percent have contributed to Pakistan’s economic challenges,” he continued.
However, he warned that any bid to regulate the auto sector, including price fixation, would lead to exit of Toyota cars from the Pakistani market.
In Pakistan, 400 registered vendors have been supplying parts to the auto manufacturers whose number is expected to increase in coming years.
“Vending industry is playing key role in the localization of vehicles and they are investing in modernizing their product lines,” Syed Nabeel Hashmi, former chairman of Pakistan Association of Automotive Parts and Accessories Manufacturers, said while speaking at the workshop. “As a nation, we have to look at the future technology.”
Hashmi called for action against a huge influx of Chinese products which, he said, lacked requisite quality and damaged the automobile sector.
“We want long term policy in Pakistan so that we can manufacture high tech equipment for EVs that are the future of transportation,” he said.

Pakistan cuts Usman Qadir for ODI series against West Indies

Updated 23 May 2022

Pakistan cuts Usman Qadir for ODI series against West Indies

  • Rawalpindi will host the three one-day games on June 8, 10 and 12
  • Hard-hitters Asif Ali and Haider Ali dropped for the series as well

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has dropped leg-spinner Usman Qadir and hard-hitting batters Asif Ali and Haider Ali for next month’s limited-overs international series against the West Indies. 

“Usman, Asif and Haider remain in our plans for the shortest format as we have a series of T20s lined up this year, including the T20 World Cup,” chief selector Mohammad Wasim said in a statement on Monday. 

Wasim said the return of vice-captain Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz from injuries resulted in Usman's absence for the ODI series. Both players missed Pakistan’s last ODI series at home against Australia. 

Rawalpindi will host the three one-day games, which are part of the Cricket World Cup League, on June 8, 10 and 12. 

The 16-member squad will meet for a training camp starting June 1, with Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan joining from their English county teams. 

For the first time in more than two years, Pakistan will be playing without the restrictions of a bio-secure bubble that had become part of life for players during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wasim said the lowered restrictions meant additional players could be called into the squad in case the team management required any replacement. 

“We have decided to give the best chance to our side to collect maximum points and strengthen our chances of progressing directly for the pinnacle 50-over tournament,” he said of the World Cup. “We have retained the same core of players so they further establish themselves in the format. I hope this bunch will continue the form they gained from the Australia series.” 

The selectors have included uncapped wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Haris in the squad as backup for Mohammad Rizwan, and retained the three openers Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq.

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani and Zahid Mahmood. 

Pakistan launches new anti-polio drive after 3rd case found 

Updated 40 min 18 sec ago

Pakistan launches new anti-polio drive after 3rd case found 

  • The five-day campaign is aimed at inoculating 40 million kids under 5 
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan are only countries still trying to eradicate polio 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched a new anti-polio drive on Monday, more than a week after officials detected the third case so far this year in the country’s northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.

The campaign — the third one this year — is to last for five days, aiming to inoculate 40 million children under the age of 5 across the country.

Pakistan has previously carried out two anti-polio campaigns this year, in January and March, after discovering only one case of the disease last year, which raised hopes the country was close to eliminating polio. This year’s first case was registered in April.

A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in a neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, May 23, 2022. (AP)

A statement from Dr. Shahbaz Baig, the spokesperson for the country’s polio program, urged parents to cooperate with polio workers in the door-to-door campaign.

Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are regularly marked by violence. Militants often target polio teams and police assigned to protect them, falsely claiming the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.

A health worker gives polio vaccines to children in a neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, May 23, 2022. (AP)

During the March campaign, gunmen in northwestern Pakistan shot and killed a female polio worker as she was returning home after a day of vaccinations. And in January, gunmen shot and killed a police officer providing security for polio vaccination workers, also in the country’s northwest.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only remaining countries in the world still trying to eradicate polio, which can cause severe paralysis in children.