Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

Tourists sit on chairlifts at the Patriata Resort near Murree, some 65 km from Islamabad on Aug. 16, 2020. (AFP/FILE)
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Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

  • Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions
  • In 24 hours, Pakistan recorded 805 positive cases, fresh COVID guidelines issued for five-day Eid holiday 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) on Wednesday urged people to strictly follow COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) while holidaying during the Eid Al-Adha festival that starts on Sunday. 

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions.

But the South Asian nation has seen a spike in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, with the national positivity ratio rising to 4.69 percent in the last 24 hours, as 805 tests turned out positive. Over 168 patients are currently in critical care at hospitals across the country.

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, also said the COVID-19 positivity rate had reached 17.46 percent in Abbottabad, a main tourist destination in the northwest of the country.

“Strictly adhere to coronavirus safety precautions during your tourist trips,” the NIH said in a statement. “The risk of spreading the coronavirus increases at crowded places, so make sure to use a face mask and [use] hand sanitizer.”

The body also advised people to maintain social distance and ensure that all those traveling to tourist destinations were fully vaccinated and had gotten booster doses

On Tuesday, the government issued fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha. 

“Eid UI Adha prayers should be organized in open spaces under stringent COVID protocols. In case of any compulsion to offer the prayers inside mosques, then all windows and doors should be kept open for ventilation / to minimize the chances of disease spread,” the NCOC said in a statement.

The body said up to three Eid prayers should be organized at a single venue with staggered timings to allow maximum people to offer prayers with COVID-19 protocols in place.

“All ulemas leading Eid prayers should be sensitised to keep sermons ... short so that people remain present in the prayer venues for a brief duration,” the guidelines said. “Efforts should be made to discourage sick, elderly and young children from attending Eid prayers.”

People without face masks should not be allowed to enter prayer venues, the NCOC said, adding that prayer venues should have multiple entry and exit points and venue organizers should ensure the availability of hand sanitisers.

“It should be mandatory for all coming for prayers to use sanitisers before entering the venue,” the guidelines said.

“To ensure social distancing protocols, venue organizers to ensure prominent marking (6 feet apart) to allow sufficient space/distance between individuals. People should be encouraged to perform abulution at home before coming for the prayers and also bring their own prayer mats to the venue. Efforts should be made to sensitise people to refrain from embracing and handshaking after the prayer to avoid chances of disease transmission. There should not be any gathering at the prayer venue before the prayer and people should be asked to disperse immediately after the prayer.”

The NCOC said efforts would be made to promote and encourage central and collective sacrifices through various public, private and community organizations, while ensuring adherence to the COVID-19 protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and avoidance of crowds.

Pakistan was headed to Sri Lanka’s ‘default-like situation’ but crisis averted — finance minister

Updated 19 sec ago

Pakistan was headed to Sri Lanka’s ‘default-like situation’ but crisis averted — finance minister

  • The high price of energy imports have recently pushed Pakistan to the brink of a balance of payments crisis
  • Foreign currency reserves have fallen as low as $9.8 billion, rupee had weakened to record lows against USD

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani finance minister Miftah Ismail said on Tuesday “serious worries” that Pakistan would end up like Sri Lanka, grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades, had been averted due to “significant” policy changes and austerity measures.

The high price of energy imports have recently pushed Pakistan to the brink of a balance of payments crisis. Its foreign currency reserves had fallen as low as $9.8 billion, hardly enough for five weeks of imports, and the Pakistani rupee had weakened to record lows against the US dollar this year.

But the Pakistani economy got a new lease of life when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last month it had reached a staff-level agreement with Pakistan that would pave the way for the disbursement of $1.17 billion of a stall $6 billion loan program, if approved by the IMF board.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is caught in its worst financial crisis in more than 70 years as a shortage of foreign exchange has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of food, medicine and, critically, fuel. The economic mismanagement meltdown sparked months of mass protests and eventually forced then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.

“There were serious worries about Pakistan heading Sri Lanka’s way, Pakistan getting into a default-like situation but thankfully we have made some significant changes, we’ve brought in significant austerity, belt-tightening and I think we have averted that situation,” Ismail said in an interview with CNBC.

He said the country was in an IMF program now and board approval was expected later this month. Without the IMF deal, which should open up other avenues for external finance, Ismail has previously said the country could have headed toward default.

The government had also raised taxes, removed unfunded subsidies on the oil and power sectors and reduced imports in recent weeks, the minister added, to help push the country out of economic difficulty.

The measures also, however, increased inflation, with Pakistan’s consumer price index (CPI) rising 21.3 percent in June from a year earlier, the South Asian nation’s highest inflation in 13 years. In May, the CPI was up 13.8 percent on the year.

But Ismail insisted Pakistan was now “headed in the right direction,” blaming rising inflation on a “challenging environment internationally,” especially the rise in the prices of oil, edible oil and commodities globally.

“In the last week, our currency actually has come back about seven percent or so against the US dollar,” the minister said. “If we had gone the Sri Lankan way it would have been much worse.”

Last month, Ismail said Pakistan was likely to get $4 billion from friendly countries to bridge a gap in foreign reserves highlighted by the International Monetary Fund.

“As per the IMF, there is a $4 billion gap,” Ismail told a news conference in Islamabad, referring to the shortfall in foreign reserves.

“We will, God willing, fill this gap in the month of July,” he said. “We think that we will get $1.2 billion in deferred oil payment from a friendly country. We think that a foreign country will invest between $1.5 to $2 billion in stocks on a G2G (government-to-government) basis, and another friendly country will perhaps give us gas on deferred payment and another friendly country will make some deposits.”

Ex-PM Khan’s chief of staff arrested day after ‘seditious’ comments against army

Updated 09 August 2022

Ex-PM Khan’s chief of staff arrested day after ‘seditious’ comments against army

  • In news segment on Monday, hosts and Khan chief of staff discussed alleged media cell set up by ruling PMLN party to malign PTI
  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill’s comments tantamount to inciting “ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” electronic media regulator says

ISLAMABAD: Dr Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, was arrested on Tuesday, the PTI said, a day after he made comments in a TV show that the national media regulator said were “seditious.”

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had issued a show-cause notice on Monday night to a private TV channel, ARY News, for airing a segment that included Gill’s comments, viewed as critical of the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the high command of the Pakistan army.

In the segment, two hosts and Gill alleged that Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party had activated a “strategic media cell” to malign the PTI and its chairman and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful army.

Gill also advised army officers during the show not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

Hours after the segment was aired, ARY News executives said the channel had been taken off air across the country. On Tuesday afternoon, the PTI announced Gill's arrest.

“After the ban on ARY yesterday, they’ve today arrested @SHABAZGIL,” Khan's PTI party said in a Twitter post. “We strongly demand the immediate release of Dr Gill.”

The PTI also said Gill was attacked and his assistant was roughed up.

“In which democracy people are arrested like this,” the party said in a post showing a video of Gill’s car with a broken window.

Another PTI leader, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, said Gill had been “abducted” while driving to Khan’s residence by people who “came in vehicles without numberplates,” a widely used euphemism for intelligence officials.

ARY News is widely seen as being partial to ex-premier Imran Khan’s opposition PTI party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic policies a regular feature of news bulletins and current affairs shows.

In its show-cause notice, PEMRA said on Monday that the arrested PTI leader had made “highly hateful and seditious comments” which amounted to inciting the armed forces to rebel against their leaders.

“Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individual who intent to spread malice and hatred against the state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice to the channel read, saying this was against the country’s constitution.

The regulator directed the chief executive officer of the channel to show cause in writing within three days, explaining why legal action should not be initiated against the channel for violating the law and the constitution.

On Monday evening, officials of the ARY channel said it had been taken off air in a number of cities.

“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators across Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News Live on Youtube,” Ammad Yousaf, senior executive vice president of ARY News, said.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed to Arab News the suspension of the channel’s transmission across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.

“We have received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to off air ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, convener ISPAK and co-founder of Nayatel, a major Internet service provider, told Arab News. “No reason is given to us to off air the channel, and this is being done almost across Pakistan now.”

The channel was still off air as of Tuesday afternoon.

Pakistan’s election agency begins voter verification after 20,000 centenarians found in database

Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistan’s election agency begins voter verification after 20,000 centenarians found in database

  • According to the 2017 census, only 3.7 percent of the country’s population is aged 65 or above
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to publish the final list of voters in the ongoing month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulatory authority has started door-to-door verification of elderly voters after more than 20,000 of them were found to be between the ages of 100 and 142, reported the local media on Tuesday.

The country is said to have one of the youngest populations in the world. According to the 2017 census, 40.3 percent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 15 while only 3.7 percent is aged 65 or more.

“Over 20,000 voters registered on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) voters’ list have been found to be aged between 100 and 142 years, many of them possibly eyewitness of the British colonial rule, World War II and the creation of Pakistan,” the Express Tribune reported.

It added the door-to-door verification process would continue until August 13.

The ECP is expected to publish the final list of voters during the ongoing month after thoroughly reviewing its database.

At present, the election agency’s record reflects a total of 11,760 female and 8,590 male Pakistani citizens above the age of 100 in the country.

“In Sindh, over 8,633 centenarian voters belong to Karachi, including 4,301 females and 4,332 males,” the newspaper reported.

The ECP said earlier this month it had completed the process of delimitation of constituencies for national and provincial assemblies and was in a position to hold general elections in the country.

Pakistan PM condemns suicide attack that killed four soldiers in North Waziristan

Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistan PM condemns suicide attack that killed four soldiers in North Waziristan

  • Sharif says the nation will continue to fight until the ‘scourge of terrorism’ was completely eliminated
  • The country’s intelligence agencies are trying to get information on the bomber and his handlers

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday condemned a suicide attack on a military convoy in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district which claimed the lives of four soldiers earlier in the day.

The military media wing, ISPR, confirmed the development in a statement, saying the incident had taken place in the settlement of Mir Ali.

Pakistan’s northwestern region has also witnessed similar attacks in the past since the US-led international coalition invaded neighboring Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The international forces pulled out of the war-ravaged country in August last year, though violent incidents in Pakistan’s border regions near Afghanistan have not ended yet.

“I feel sorrow and grief over the martyrdom of four soldiers as a result of suicide attack in North Waziristan,” the prime minister said in a statement. “The nation will continue to fight until the scourge of terrorism ends.”

Sharif paid tribute to soldiers who lost their lives while fighting against militant outfits.

According to the ISPR statement, the country’s intelligence agencies are trying to find out more about the suicide bomber and his handlers and facilitators.

“Pakistan Army is determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our brave soldiers will not go unpunished,” it added.

India’s Neeraj Chopra wishes Arshad Nadeem ‘all the best’ after new record, gold at Commonwealth Games

Updated 09 August 2022

India’s Neeraj Chopra wishes Arshad Nadeem ‘all the best’ after new record, gold at Commonwealth Games

  • The two South Asian athletes first met in India in 2016 when they were still in their teenage
  • Nadeem is the first South Asian athlete who has breached the 90-meter barrier in an international contest

ISLAMABAD: A leading Indian athlete, Neeraj Chopra, congratulated his Pakistani rival and friend, Arshad Nadeem, after the latter shared the video of his record-breaking, 90-meter javelin throw at the Commonwealth Game on Instagram that helped him earn a gold for his country.

The two sportsmen first met in 2016 as teenagers when Nadeem visited India to participate in an international competition. Ever since, they have competed with each other in several international contests, including the Olympic Games held last year where Chopra secured the top position for his country.

Nadeem made history in the early hours of Monday while participating in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final, setting the new record at the games and snatching the title in a fifth-round throw of 90.18 meters.

His performance not only made him the first Pakistani, but also the only South Asian, to breach the 90-meter barrier in the sport.

“Congratulations Arshad bhai [brother] for gold medal and crossing 90mtr with new games record,” Chopra said while commenting on Nadeem’s social media post.

The Indian athlete, who could not represent his country at the Commonwealth Games due to a groin injury, also wished him luck for future competitions.
Asked about Chopra’s absence from the competition, Nadeem said he “missed” him at the games.

“May God grant him good health,” he added. “It would have been more fun if he were here.”