Pakistan to close schools with high COVID-19 positivity for one week 

Children wearing facemasks attend a class at a school in Islamabad on September 30, 2020. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 22 January 2022

Pakistan to close schools with high COVID-19 positivity for one week 

  • Health authorities will carry out massive COVID-19 testing in educational institutes in major omicron-hit cities 
  • On Friday, the South Asian nation recorded its highest daily virus cases since the beginning of the pandemic 

ISLAMABAD: Educational institutions with a high coronavirus positivity ratio would be closed for a week across Pakistan, the country’s pandemic response body announced on Friday, as the South Asian nation reported its highest daily infections since the start of the pandemic. 

Pakistan recorded 23 deaths and 7,678 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, according to official figures. The country reported the previous record high number of daily cases on June 13, 2020, when 6,825 people had tested positive for the virus. 

The virus positivity ratio in the country shot up to 12.93 percent from 11.55 percent the previous day as it continues to battle an omicron-driven fifth wave of virus infections. 

Health authorities have carried out COVID-19 testing in education institutes in major omicron-hit cities to ascertain the disease spread among students and ensure accurate disease mapping. 

The data suggested a strong correlation between vaccination levels and infection rate in various cities, prompting the authorities to take different measures, including aggressive testing in educational institutes over the next two weeks. 

“Education institutions / premises / sections / specific classes with high positivity to be closed for ONE Week,” the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s top pandemic response body, said in a statement. 

“Provincial Administration in consultation with District Health, Education Authorities and School Administrations to set a threshold of cases for deciding such closures.” 

Federating units would carry out special vaccination drives in schools to ensure 100 percent vaccination of students over 12 years of age, the NCOC added. 

The rise in COVID-19 cases comes as authorities in the South Asian nation impose new restrictions to curb the fast-spreading omicron strain that is fueling the fifth wave of infections in the country. 

Earlier this week, the NCOC banned indoor gatherings and imposed restrictions on schools from January 24 in cities where the COVID-19 positivity rate was above 10 percent. 

But despite the surge, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of a lockdown, saying Pakistan could not bring its economy to a standstill. 

Pakistan finance minister vows to finalize resumption of IMF program in Doha talks 

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan finance minister vows to finalize resumption of IMF program in Doha talks 

  • 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 23 May 2022

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 23 May 2022

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.

Pakistan’s Oscar winning filmmaker calls Ms. Marvel tribute to global immigrant community

Updated 23 May 2022

Pakistan’s Oscar winning filmmaker calls Ms. Marvel tribute to global immigrant community

  • Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy says it is a story of a Pakistani-American girl who wants to be a superhero
  • The American television mini-series will be released next month and screened in Pakistani cinemas

KARACHI: Pakistan’s two-time Oscar winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who co-directed Ms. Marvel, an American television mini-series, told Arab News in a recent interview that her latest venture would introduce the world to a different kind of superhero whose onscreen presence would be a tribute to immigrants around the world.

Ms. Marvel, is the story of a Pakistani-American teenager, Kamala Khan, who finds her powers amid her day-to-day struggles.

The series will be streamed from June 8 on Disney Plus, a platform currently unavailable in Pakistan, though local viewers will be able to watch its episodes in cinemas in all the major cities.

“Ms. Marvel is a celebration of being an immigrant,” Obaid-Chinoy said in a wide-ranging interview on Saturday. “When you watch Ms. Marvel, you will hear music that you are familiar with, you will see food that you have consumed yourself.”

“It’s a celebration of our textures and fabrics and our holidays and rituals,” she added. “And it’s a real celebration of being South Asian. She [Kamala] is a first generation Pakistani-American, and it is her desire to become a superhero.”

The Pakistani filmmaker said many young people around the world would see a reflection of themselves in Ms. Marvel.

“I would say it’s a coming-of-age story of a young woman in New Jersey,” she continued. “What is special about it is that for the first time in the Marvel Universe, they are introducing an immigrant, brown, South Asian, Muslim girl.”

Describing the lead character of the mini-series, she said Kalama “is funny and quirky who loves Captain Marvel.”

Asked about the significance of the American mini-series in her own career, Obaid-Chinoy said she wanted to move into narrative fiction filmmaking after producing several documentaries and animations, though she had been waiting for the right project which she found in Ms. Marvel.

“Ms. Marvel has a purpose,” she said. “When you look at it, you realize that a superhero can be anyone … The color of your skin, your religion, where you come from, don’t matter.”

Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is seen posing for a photo-shoot in this undated file photo. (Photo courtesy: Lotus Pakistan)

The Pakistani Oscar winner also passionately spoke about investment in the local film industry, saying it was vital to nurture producers, directors, cinematographers and actors who had the ability to compete internationally.

Some filmmakers, she added, were still leaving their mark globally without all these necessary resources.

“For the first time we have a film at Cannes this year … which is incredible,” she said.

She maintained that Pakistani cinema did not have a narrative at this stage, adding that a lot of films looked like Bollywood productions.

“My hope is that we find our original voice,” she continued, “one that we can stay true to.”

Obaid-Chinoy said she cared about local cinema which also explained why she decided to launch Patakha Pictures that provided funding and mentorship grants to nurture the next generation of filmmakers in Pakistan, particularly female directors and producers.

She dismissed the perception that her films were only meant for international audiences, saying she had released three films in Pakistani cinemas in the last five to six years. However, she added that filmmakers should try to produce content for both local and international markets.

“For me, both things have to go along, because the Pakistani market is very small,” she said. “There are very limited resources here. And I want to compete with the world. Why should I just compete [in] Pakistan?”

Asked if streaming services constituted a threat to the cinema, she said there was a global trend to release films in cinema houses for a limited period before moving them to streaming services.

“That doesn’t mean that cinema houses are closing,” she said. “It just means that the business model is adapting to different things.”

The Pakistani filmmaker recalled there were similar concerns when video home systems were introduced, making some people nervous since they thought everyone would begin to watch everything at home. Decades later, however, people were still going to cinema houses to watch their favorite flicks.

“There is something very special about the magic of cinema,” Obaid-Chinoy said. “I don’t think that that will change.”