Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Can Pakistan Effectively Respond to Coronavirus Pandemic?

Pakistani public health system's ability to deal with Covid19 pandemic is increasingly being questioned with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases spiking in the country. The current hotspot is in southern Sindh province where the provincial government is taking the lead in fighting its spread by shutting schools, closing restaurants and shopping malls and banning large gatherings such as weddings and conferences. The federal government has closed Pakistan's western border with Iran where the coronavirus pandemic is raging. Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has started screening all incoming passengers and stopped flights to and from several countries hit by the pandemic. Pakistani health experts are advising people with flu-like symptoms to self-isolate in their homes. The best known treatment for the severely ill is Resochin, the anti-malarial antiviral made by Bayer Pakistan. Hydroxycholroquine (HCQ), made by Getz Pakistan, is also reportedly effective in treating Covid19.

Coronavirus Global Pandemic

Is Pakistan Ready?

Pakistan is among only 6 countries in the world that have taken the steps they need to evaluate their ability to withstand a global pandemic, according to a 2017 report sponsored by the World Bank. The 6 countries named in the report are: Eritrea, Finland, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and the United States.

Covid19 Coronavirus. Source: US CDC
Pakistan's ability to deal with a pandemic is now being tested by the coronavirus. The current hotspot for it is in southern Sindh province where the provincial government is taking the lead in fighting its spread by shutting schools, closing restaurants and shopping malls and banning large gatherings such as weddings and conferences. The federal government has closed Pakistan's western border with Iran where the coronavirus pandemic is raging. Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has started screening all incoming passengers and stopped flights to and from several countries hit by the pandemic. Pakistani health experts are advising people with flu-like symptoms to self-isolate in their homes.

Pakistan is ramping up coronavirus testing and setting up isolation wards at many hospitals in Sindh and across the country. More testing accounts for the spike in confirmed cases. The best known treatment for the severely ill is Resochin, the anti-malarial antiviral made by Bayer Pakistan.

In response to a recent request by Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper staff, World Health Organization Executive Director Dr. Michael J. Ryan said Pakistan has great capacity in public health but he also talked of challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. “Pakistan has a highly mobile population with mega cities and undeserved people,” he said.  “So there is a great challenge facing Pakistan. But Pakistan has also demonstrated time and again with dengue, polio and other diseases how all of the government and society’s approaches can be made to work.”

Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Pakistan, also lauded Pakistan's response to Covid19 pandemic, according to The News. He said,  “Pakistan has timely come up with one of the world’s best National Response Program against COVID-19 and it is being implemented very effectively. Authorities are doing their job and now it is the responsibility of the people to follow the instructions and take preventive and precautionary measures to avoid contracting the viral disease.”

The World Bank report titled "From Panic and Neglect to Investing in Health Security: Financing Pandemic Preparedness at a National Level" was written by experts from the World Bank,  the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the African and Asian development banks, and finance officials from various governments. The report included estimates of the economic damage various epidemics had done. For example, the viral pneumonia SARS — which ultimately killed only 774 people — shrank China’s gross domestic product by 0.5 percent in 2003. The report also broke down costs on a per capita basis. A major flu pandemic, for example, would cost Afghanistan only $12 per citizen, India $31, Pakistan $28 and the United States $248.

Social Distancing:

The current hotspot is in southern Sindh province where the provincial government is taking the lead in fighting its spread by shutting schools, closing restaurants and shopping malls and banning large gatherings. The federal government has closed Pakistan's western border with Iran where the coronavirus pandemic is raging. Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has started screening all incoming passengers and stopped flights to and from several countries hit by the pandemic.

Italian experience with coronavirus has shown that even a well-developed public health system in a rich European country can be overwhelmed by rapidly growing pandemic such as Covid19.  The best way to handle the situation is to cut the infection rate by keeping people about 6 feet apart. This is being called "social distancing".

Social Distancing to Limit Infection Rates 

Based on what the United States has learned from what is happening in Italy, major cities and states in America are taking steps to reduce large gatherings of people. Offices, schools, restaurants and shopping centers are closed with shelter-in-place orders in Silicon Valley and the larger 6-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Herd Immunity:

Herd immunity develops when a large percentage of population is infected or vaccinated. Dr. Arindam Basu, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at University of Canterbury, has recently written an article in The Conversation arguing that it is "unethical and potentially dangerous" to wait for herd immunity to develop in the absence of a vaccine.  It could result in hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths among the most vulnerable segments of the population such as the elderly and the immune-compromised.

Pakistan's Assistance to China:

Chinese President Xi Jinping has thanked Pakistan for its support during coronabirus outbreak in his country. "China is deeply grateful for Pakistan's support. Facts have proved once again that China and Pakistan are true friends who share weal and woe and good brothers who share each other's joys and sorrows. The special friendship is a historical choice, and is deeply rooted in the hearts of the two peoples," said Xi.

Resochin (Chloroquine) Produced by Bayer Pakistan 

At the peak of the outbreak in February, Bayer Pakistan exported to China 300,000 tablets of Resochin (Chloroquine) that proved effective in treating coronavirus infections and saving lives in Wuhan. Resochin is an antiviral drug used for treating malaria. Chloroquine is manufactured by not just Bayer but several other drug companies as well.  China and many other countries discontinued its production years ago.   Several Pakistani pharmaceutical companies also manufacture HydroxyChloroquine which has lower toxicity and fewer side effects. The United Kingdom has banned hoarding and export of both of these drugs. In addition, Pakistan donated 7,000 surgical masks to China at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.  A recent paper titled "An Effective Treatment for Coronavirus (COVID-19)"  by James M. Todaro, MD and and Gregory J. Rigano, Esq. has published data showing the efficacy of familiar anti-malaria drugs Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for treatment of and as prophylactic against COVID-19.
In Vitro Efficacy of Chloroquine(CQ) vs Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) Against COVID19. Source: Nature

Recently, Chinese research (reported in Clinical Trials Arena) reported that “data from the drug’s [chloroquine] studies showed ‘certain curative effect’ with ‘fairly good efficacy’ … patients treated with chloroquine demonstrated a better drop in fever, improvement of lung CT images, and required a shorter time to recover compared to parallel groups. The percentage of patients with negative viral nucleic acid tests was also higher with the anti-malarial drug… Chloroquine has so far shown no obvious serious adverse reactions in more than 100 participants in the trials… Chloroquine was selected after several screening rounds of thousands of existing drugs. Chloroquine is undergoing further trials in more than ten hospitals in Beijing, Guangdong province and Hunnan province.”

A small French study found only 25% of COVID19 patients who took it for 6 days still had the virus while 90% of those who had not taken it still had Covid-19.

HCQ (Hydroxychloroquine) Manufactured by Getz Pakistan

Economic Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic:

Service sector accounts for  50% of the world GDP and 54% of Pakistan's GDP.  Social distancing will significantly impact the services, particularly retail, restaurants, travel, transport and education sectors. Imran Khan has expressed fear that the pandemic will devastate the economies of developing countries.

“My worry is poverty and hunger," Khan said. "The world community has to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us, which are very vulnerable, at least that will help us in coping with (the coronavirus).”


Pakistan is among only six countries in the world that have taken the steps they need to evaluate their ability to withstand a global pandemic, according to a 2017 report sponsored by the World Bank. The current hotspot is in southern Sindh province where the provincial government is taking the lead in fighting its spread by shutting schools, closing restaurants and shopping malls and banning large gatherings. The federal government has closed Pakistan's western border with Iran where the coronavirus pandemic is raging. Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has started screening all incoming passengers and stopped flights to and from several countries hit by the pandemic.  The best known treatment for the severely ill is Resochin, the anti-malarial antiviral made by Bayer Pakistan.  Dr. Michael Ryan and Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala of the World Health Organization (WHO) have talked of challenges Pakistan faces but also praised the steps it has taken to fight coronavirus pandemic.

Here's the latest Coronavirus Pandemic Update:

Related Links:


Sabahat A. said...

HCQ is no longer available in Pakistan.

It is now in short supply

Riaz Haq said...

Sabahat:n "HCQ is no longer available in Pakistan."

Pakistan should immediately ban export and hoarding of HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) and Resochin (chloroquine).

And local manufacturing plants in Pakistan should ramp up production.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan locks down province, bans international flights as #coronavirus spreads. PM #ImranKhan is urging people to stay at home but remain calm, saying that “panicking is more dangerous for us than coronavirus.” #COVID19

With the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan soaring to more than 700 in the past few days, officials there have banned all international flights and have requested that security forces help institute a full lockdown in Sindh province, where a majority of cases have been reported. A third death from the virus was reported Friday.

Most of those found to be infected are Shiite pilgrims from Sindh who returned from visiting shrines in neighboring Iran, where the virus has already killed more than 1,500. Most reentered Pakistan via a single border crossing in Baluchistan province. A similar problem is affecting next-door Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of refugees have recently flooded back from Iran.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, facing public panic, has stopped short of declaring a nationwide lockdown but has asked all citizens to self-quarantine for two weeks. This past week, Khan came under strong criticism after playing down the threat in a nationwide address. He said that people should not “run to hospitals” to get tested and that 90 percent of those testing positive would “recover easily.”

On Friday, with several hundred new cases reported, Khan told a group of TV anchors that he hoped the coming of hot and dry weather would mitigate the outbreak. He urged people to stay at home but remain calm, saying that “panicking is more dangerous for us than coronavirus.” He said he was still reluctant to impose a nationwide lockdown because it would harm the working poor.

“We don’t want to try and save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty,” Khan said. Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of 210 million, has a high poverty rate, with about one-quarter of the populace earning less than $2 per day.

But in Sindh, a vast and impoverished region of close to 50 million, officials decided to impose a total lockdown beginning Sunday night. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was in discussions with army and police officials Sunday night and was expected to formally enlist their help to ensure public compliance with the lockdown.-----------------------------------------

As of this weekend, health officials said a 3,000-room quarantine center has been set up in Multan, a city in Punjab, for infected pilgrims who returned from Iran. They said it has 171 isolation rooms. After screening there, patients will be sent to a new general hospital for treatment, they said.

Riaz Haq said...

Mass Religious Gathering In Pakistan Leads To Fresh Concerns Over COVID-19 Spread

The first two cases of coronavirus infection in the Gaza Strip, a war-shattered territory with a fragile health system, were confirmed over the weekend in Palestinian men who attended a mass religious gathering 10 days ago in Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based Palestinian diplomat.

The diplomat, Ahmed Rabi, says the men were part of a two-day gathering that ended March 12 in eastern Pakistan. The gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat, a global conservative Muslim missionary group, brought together tens of thousands of Muslim preachers from some 80 countries and has raised concerns about the virus' spread in Pakistan and beyond.

The group, founded nearly a century ago in India, has millions of followers and proselytizes around the world. Preachers on missions sleep in mosques and make door-to-door visits.

A longtime Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat member, Arif Rana, said the gathering was canceled on March 12 because of rain — attendees sleep in the open. But Azhar Mashwani, on the Punjab chief minister's staff, said on Twitter that it ended because of coronavirus fears. Most attendees were Pakistani, but at least a few thousand came from other countries, Rana told NPR.

In Pakistan, four people in the southern province of Sindh who attended the gathering were infected with the virus, the provincial government reported. Other Pakistani provinces do not provide a detailed breakdown of coronavirus cases, so the national number may be higher.

Five preachers from Kyrgyzstan stayed in a mosque in Islamabad after attending the Tablighi Jamaat gathering and have also tested positive, said a senior health official who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

On Twitter, Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the deputy commissioner of Islamabad, accused the Kyrgyz group of "criminal carelessness" because "they knew that one of them had symptoms and they kept on roaming around."

Concerns have also been raised in Southeast Asia about infection after a Tablighi Jamaat gathering outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late February and early March. Malaysian media reported that more than half of the country's known coronavirus cases were traced to the gathering. Preachers who attended also spread the virus to Brunei and Thailand, the New York Times reported, saying the gathering created "the largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia."

Tablighi Jamaat leaders in Pakistan had dismissed earlier calls by the Punjab provincial government to cancel their event, saying they believed those calls were motivated by anti-religious bias.

"Every other year, something or other happens which makes people afraid of getting together," Rana said. "We just focus on action, on deeds, and Allah protects."

Now, he said, for the first time in the group's history, they were curtailing activities such as weekly meetings, "until thing[s get] better."

Riaz Haq said...

A group of volunteers from Pakistan, who call themselves Pakistan Against COVID-19 – Volunteers (PAC-V), have announced plans to use cutting edge 3D printing to produce affordable ventilators, respiratory valves and other essential equipment at a large scale.

According to a report in The News, the group of volunteers from across Pakistan had earlier this month come together to develop affordable solutions to combat COVID-19 and manufacture medical equipment using 3D printing technology in the country.

The volunteers are doctors, biomedical professionals, engineers, academics, diaspora, resource mobilisers and other smaller groups, who aim to make use of 3D printing to manufacture ventilators, valves and required equipment for the frontline response to the cornonavirus.

The group has announced that the first 3D ventilator prototype will be ready for testing within two weeks. The 3D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model (CAF), usually by successively adding material layer by layer, and is also called additive manufacturing.

The group has announced that it is seeking support from the nation to scale up the initiative for a larger impact on the health industry that requires resources and facilitation at different levels of the government.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan’s top hematologist and transplant surgeon says that the blood of recovered patients of COVID-19 – the mysterious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus – could be used to slow the spread of the deadly contagion which has killed nearly 10,000 people and sickened tens of thousands others worldwide.

“The body of a COVID-19 patient creates antibodies to fight off the virus. These antibodies in the blood of a recovered patient could be used to boost the immunity of the newly infected people,” Dr Tahir Shamsi, the head of National Institute of Blood Diseases, told The Express Tribune in an interview.

In medical lexicon, this technique is called “passive immunisation” which was introduced in 1890, he added. This technique is used when there is a high risk of infection and insufficient time for the body to develop its own immune response, or to reduce the symptoms of ongoing or immunosuppressive diseases.

Riaz Haq said...

The first National Center for Virology is being recently established as a part of the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi, in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and three German institutions, Eberhard Karls-University of Tuebingen, Tuebingen University, and Medidiagnost. Wuhan is the very city in China from where the coronavirus first started. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the most powerful scientific organization in China, and it is the leading centre for virus research in China.

The need to set up a top class centre for virology was felt by the scientific leadership of the International Center for Chemical Biological Sciences several years ago, reflecting their foresight. The International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences now houses some 17 buildings spread over about 70 acres of land with some 600 students enrolled for PhD. It has been internationally awarded many international prizes and awards and is now the Unesco Center of Excellence, providing training to many scientists from other countries, including Germany.

The centre has been built through a number of private-public partnerships starting with the Husein Ebrahim Jamal Foundation that has set up a number of research centers in the institution, including the now famous H E J Research Institute of Chemistry. The Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine was later established by the Panjwani Foundation and has already established excellent standards. Other donors include the Searle company led by Rashid Abdullah saheb. I also donated funds to it for setting up the Jamil ur Rahman Center for Genomics Research established in my father’s name.

After returning from Cambridge University in 1973, I have spent all my life in its development. It is now led by Prof Iqbal Choudhary, a leading research scientist of Pakistan. The buildings of the Virology Center have been constructed and Special Biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) facilities are being established in it, needed for research where work is performed with viruses and other agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases through inhalation and that may contaminate the environment. A non-lethal form of Covid-19 was imported by this Karachi Center earlier this year, and work started in earnest to find a cure for this lethal disease.

Riaz Haq said...

“Currently, there are 1600 beds available in nine hospitals with three in Punjab, two in Sindh, two in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, one each in Quetta and Gwadar, one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two in Gilgit Baltistan.” Moreover, one ward in all the major hospitals had been specified as an isolation facility, he added.

The total number of ventilators available across the country for critically-ill coronavirus patients are 1,700. Amid the drastic shortage and advance booking of ventilators globally, Pakistan has managed to get around 800 ventilators with the help of China. But the government is contacting several companies to increase the number to 6,000, the chairman of NDMA said.

There are currently 12 million masks available in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and another 12 million have been booked. Around 100,000 masks were available in Peshawar and 50,000 in Balochistan. About 12,500 suits are available for health workers. Nearly 2,000 laser thermometers are available at different entry points while another 30,000 would be imported from China. There are some 15,000 N-95 masks available in stock, mainly for medical staff while 50,000 more would be available shortly. Meanwhile, the Chinese tech company, Alibaba, has also donated 50,000 masks to Pakistan.

Pakistan has also established 1200 single bed-with separate bathroom accommodation at 3 entry points at the western border, which can be increased to 1,000 if needed. The total quarantine beds available in the country are 23,557 and some 2,942 isolation beds. There are 215 hospitals with isolation centres and 15 testing facilities.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Cuts Interest Rates, Sets $6 Billion To Offset #Economic Impact Of #CoronaVirus for Poor Households,100 $630 million tax rebate for #export sector & $600 million to aid small and midsize businesses (#SMEs) & #agriculture sector. #ImranKhan #PTI

Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 24 said up to 200 billion rupees ($1.26 billion) of the aid would go as payments to laborers to help families to counter the adverse effects caused by COVID-19.

Funds will also go to food and energy subsidies and on measures to boost agriculture, Khan said.

Separately, the State Bank of Pakistan announced it was slashing its key interest rate from 12.5 percent to 11 percent, a week after the rate was reduced from 13.25 percent.

The moves come as countries around the world intensify measures to rescue their economics in the face of dramatically reduced demand due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Khan also told reporters that there would be a 15-rupee (about $0.10) decline per liter in the price of gasoline and diesel.

Other measures included a 100 billion-rupee ($630 million) tax rebate for the export sector, with a similar amount to be set aside to aid small and midsize businesses and the agriculture sector.

Low-income families will receive cash payments of 3,000 rupees ($19) a month for the next four months.

Taxes on items such as sugar and wheat will be reduced or eliminated, and the government will also provide assistance to users of electricity and to medical workers.

"We will have to protect poor and make sure they have food on the table," Khan told the news conference.

The prime minister said more than 1 trillion rupees ($6.3 billion) will be taken from the government's coffers to fund the aid and stimulus packages.

The government has confirmed 906 cases of coronavirus infection with seven deaths, although most experts caution that the true number of cases in any country is impossible to determine because of a lack of testing.

Hospitals in the capital and other cities have reported long lines of people attempting to get tested for the potentially deadly disease.

Pakistan has suspended all international flights to and from the country, while provincial governments have imposed lockdowns in several cities in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

Even before the crisis, Pakistan's finances had been in a precarious situation.

In July 2019, Islamabad turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout package and has since been attempting to exhibit more disciplined financial policies to satisfy the Washington-based lender's requirements.

Riaz Haq said...

Passenger train service halted in #Pakistan till March 31. Pakistan #Railways operates 142 trains daily on its 1,885-km-long tracks to ferry some 700 million passengers every year. #Coronavirus fears had already reduced ridership. #COVID19 #lockdown

The Pakistan Railways on Tuesday announced that all passenger train services would be suspended till March 31 to curb the spread of coronavirus infections.

Taking effect from midnight, all passenger trains will remain suspended owing to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, while cargo trains will continue to function according to their schedule.

Passengers who have already booked seats will be accommodated in trains of their choice when the services resume, according to a statement issued by the Pakistan Railways.
In case tickets are unavailable, they will receive a full refund.

The move to suspend the services came after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s approval.

Earlier in the day, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid told the media that the suspension of all passenger train services was on the cards but the final decision would be made by the prime minister.

He added that he had recommended to the prime minister to give a relief package to the railways and continue paying salaries of its employees while the services remained suspended.

On Saturday, the minister had announced the suspension of 42 trains by April 1 to restrict the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The minister said trains would be suspended in phases, adding that the notification of the suspension would remain in effect till the first half of the holy month of Ramazan.

The trains suspended in the first and second phases included Khushhal Express, Akber Express, Sindh Express, Ravi Express, Shah Latif Express and Rohri Express. Jinnah Express, Bolan Express, Moinjo Daro Express, Thal Express, Marvi Express, Samman Shakir Express, Faisalabad Express, Musa Pak Express and Chenab Express.

The Pakistan Railways operates 142 trains on its 1,885-km-long tracks to ferry some 700 million passengers every year, which means that some 200,000 people travel by trains every day. However, because of the coronavirus spread, the number had declined.
“Due to the current situation the number has declined to 165,000 passengers per day,” the minister said.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistani #Coronavirous Survivor Returning From #Qom, #Iran: "My treatment in (#Karachi) isolation ward was excellent. The doctors and paramedical staff handled me in a highly professional way.... I made a swift recovery". #COVID2019

I went to Iran on February 6 on a pilgrimage along with three of my close friends and some other pilgrims. We visited the holy shrines in the cities of Qom, Mashhad and Tehran and returned to Pakistan on Feb 20.

By then, the coronavirus outbreak had hit Qom – and hit it hard. Back in Karachi, I didn’t have any symptoms associated with COVID-19 respiratory disease. No fever, no cough, no shortness of breath, absolutely nothing. Still, I visited a local hospital a day after my return for blood work on the recommendation of our family physician.

The CBC report came out normal – or perfect I should say. Since there was no abnormality, I rejoined the university and attended classes for the next couple of days. A doctor, in the meantime, told me that the novel coronavirus doesn’t show up in blood through simple CBC – and that I need to take a swab test for this purpose.

This is when I started feeling dizziness and weakness. On Feb 25, I had cold sensation in my hands and feet. I also started coughing and feeling nauseated. The symptoms raised a red flag. Interestingly, I didn’t feel shortness of breath until then.

The symptoms were tell-tale. And my dad advised me to consult a doctor immediately. However, the hospital where I have had my CBC didn’t have kits to test me for the novel coronavirus. So, my father took me to Aga Khan Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the city, where I was diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease. That’s how I became the first corona-positive case in Pakistan.

Immediately after my diagnosis, I was sent to the isolation ward where my treatment began. I was diagnosed at an initial stage which is why the mysterious pathogen had not infected my respiratory system.

Medics assuaged my fears. They said the COVID-19 mortality rate is less than 1% and that it causes complications only among the elderly or those with a compromised immune system. “Since the immune system of the young patients is strong, I’ve good chances to recover completely,” one of my doctors told me at the time.

My treatment in the isolation ward was excellent. The doctors and paramedical staff handled me in a highly professional way. I was, however, not allowed to see my family and relatives, which was understandable since the virus is highly contagious. Officials from the World Health Organization also enquired about my case.

I made a swift recovery. They tested me three times to make sure the virus is completely out of my system. And finally the hospital allowed me to go home. Now, I’m feeling very good. Or I shall say I’m feeling perfect.

The sad part of the entire episode was that my personal details were leaked to the media by God knows who, which created a lot of problems for me and my family. My photo was all over the social media and I became a pariah.

Soon after my diagnosis, my entire family was tested for the coronavirus and luckily all of them tested negative. The screening was then extended to my friends who accompanied me on the trip to Iran and also the people who I had interacted with after my return to Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan daily wagers struggle to survive in #coronavirus lockdown. #PTI govt giving Rs. 12,000 ($75) to low-income earners as part of $940m economic stimulus. Pak has 119,000 hospital beds in isolation wards & adding 162,000 beds for quarantine #COVID19

Other provinces and regions are following a largely similar model, with Sindh province, which has the highest number of cases - at least 410, enforcing a stricter lockdown with full city shutdowns mandated between 8pm and 8am every night, starting on Wednesday.

"A lockdown is not a curfew," PM Khan reiterated in a news conference on Tuesday evening. "When you enforce a curfew, what will your poorest segment of society do?"

Shireen Khan, and more than a dozen others who were waiting for work beside him, however, say that the "lockdown" may as well be a curfew, because no one is offering them work.

"A lockdown is necessary [to control the virus outbreak]," he says. "But we need to be taken care of as well."

Rising number of cases
On Wednesday, Pakistan's countrywide tally of cases stood at 1,005, with 14 patients having recovered and seven fatalities, according to government data. The number of cases has more than tripled in a week.

Authorities have been scrambling to control the spread of the virus, although they do not yet appear to be at a level that could overwhelm Pakistan's fragile healthcare system.

On Wednesday, PM Khan reiterated that he has been delaying announcing a countrywide shutdown to safeguard the economic interests of the poorest Pakistanis, who he says need to work to earn a living.

Observers, however, say that work has already dried up with the current level of restrictions.

"The wider concern that a slowdown in economic activity would knock people's daily wages off, would evaporate the work that daily wagers do, that is already coming to fruition," says Mosharraf Zaidi, a senior fellow at the Tabadlab policy think-tank.

"Daily wage labourers require sites and opportunities that demand their skills or input. But when there is a lockdown, all economic activity, construction activity […] all of those activities have been suspended."

On Wednesday, however, the government announced it would be disbursing 12,000 rupees ($75) to low-income earners, affecting an estimating 67 million people, as part of a $940m economic stimulus package.

Healthcare specialists say there is cause for concern if the number of coronavirus cases spikes in the densely populated South Asian nation of more than 200 million.

"We're on a very low scale, in terms of infrastructure," says Dr Shamail Daud, a healthcare management specialist. "Healthcare is very disintegrated and not very high in terms of quality or dealing with high levels of critical care for patients, which is unfortunately an outcome of COVID-19."

While there are a limited number of ventilators available countrywide, Daud says a bigger problem could be a lack of enough doctors to operate them in the event of a spike in cases.

"Other than the functionality of the ventilators, the staff that actually works with it, the critical care staff [...] is very limited," he warns. "In every city, there is a shortage. […] The issue is not about the machines themselves, it is about the people who can make them work."

Earlier this week, several doctors told Al Jazeera that there are not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to go around, leaving many front-line healthcare workers without adequate protection.

On Wednesday, Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said the government was working on procuring more PPE and other medical equipment. The country needed more than 4,000 additional ventilators, Afzal told the press, but manufacturers were no longer taking additional orders.

Riaz Haq said...

#American editor of Washington Post:”We each underwent a temperature scan at the #Islamabad airport. We also had to fill out a form asking if we’d been in China or Iran, two countries hit hard by covid-19..Nobody checked us on arrival at #JFK” #coronavirus

“Are you guys being quarantined?” asked one friend after another after my husband and I arrived back in Washington this past weekend from an eight-day trip to Pakistan.

In fact, while we’ve decided to self-quarantine for two weeks out of concern about the covid-19 pandemic, no government official ever told us to do so — it just seemed like the right thing to do. Nor did we receive any sort of screening at the airport when we returned to the United States, despite flying into New York — the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with over 25,000 reported cases and more than 200 deaths as I write this.

The disconnect between the illness’s mounting human toll and this seemingly lax approach to incoming international air passengers has opened our eyes to the federal government’s insufficient response to the coronavirus and caused us to ask why our country, with its vast resources, seemingly can’t — or won’t — take the coronavirus as seriously as it should.

When we arrived in Pakistan on March 13, we each underwent a temperature scan at the Islamabad airport. We also had to fill out a form asking if we’d been in China or Iran, two countries hit hard by covid-19, during the previous 14 days. We were asked to check boxes indicating if we had a fever, cough or shortness of breath. Though 2 a.m. was probably a low-traffic arrival time, it was a painless, organized process, not a major inconvenience.

So we were shocked when we arrived Saturday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to discover that no covid-19 screening measures or advisories about quarantining awaited us. We simply got off the plane and proceeded to the U.S. citizens’ line, as if returning from any normal overseas trip. We did our customs declaration (Are you bringing in any food?) at an electronic kiosk. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who scanned our passports (and who was wearing gloves) asked us a couple of questions about where we’d been and what we’d done in Pakistan. My husband was kept back for a few minutes of additional questioning, which appeared to be motivated more by security concerns than health. No one said a word about quarantines.

Riaz Haq said...

Passengers arriving at #Toronto Airport comparing #coronavirus screening with airports in #Pakistan: #COVID2019 Screening in Pakistan much more thorough than in #Canada

Riaz Haq said...

Egypt's Al-Azhar Ulema issues fatwa permitting Friday prayers’ suspension in #Pakistan, amending Azaan (call to prayer) with words ‘Salaat Fi Buyut-e-kum’, meaning ‘pray in your homes’ instead of the usual ‘come to prayer’. #Coronavirus #SocialDistanacing

Egypt’s Al-Azhar has issued a fatwa on the request of President Dr Arif Alvi permitting suspension of Friday prayers to control the spread of deadly coronavirus across Pakistan.

“I am thankful to Grand Imam Shaikh of Al-Azhar and Supreme Council for responding to my personal request to provide guidance to us with regard to Farz Jamaat and Juma prayers in mosques during coronavirus attack,” the president said in a tweet on Wednesday.

President Alvi through Egypt’s ambassador in Pakistan had sought guidance from Al-Azhar institution, an authority on Islamic injunctions, for a word on the suspension of congregational prayers at mosques amid spike in coronavirus cases.

Riaz Haq said...

“A net increase of around 15% in internet usage was witnessed since last week as the country fights against coronavirus,” the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a press release. “The increase has been observed due to increased online activities by educational institutions and businesses and, ‘work from home’ policy adopted by individuals and organizations,” it added.

Seeking to allay concerns about internet speeds and bandwidth, the PTA said there was sufficient capacity to meet the growing demand. “There is sufficient internet capacity available in the country to meet the growing demands of the future. PTA has been closely monitoring the internet usage patterns so as to ensure that fast and efficient telecom services remain available to the consumers in this difficult time,” it said.

Part of this increase is no doubt attributable to government offices and politicians moving to video conferencing for meetings in a bid to encourage social distancing and avoid leaving their homes. Just this week, opposition parties held a conference call to discuss the strategies on how to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. The State Bank of Pakistan has also encouraged the use of digital payments and e-banking to avoid unnecessary visits to banks.

Also on Thursday, media streaming website Netflix announced it had removed the highest bandwidth streams in Pakistan to reduce traffic so that more users can avail the service. In a statement, VP Content Delivery at Netflix Ken Florance said: “Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25 percent while also maintaining the quality of our service. So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan—whether it’s Ultra-High, High or Standard Definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in Pakistan for the next 30 days.”

Riaz Haq said...

#China sends to #Pakistan 15,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) suits, 500,000 surgical masks, 50,000 N95 masks, 50,000 test kits and 20 ventilators to fight #coronavirus. #COVID2019.

On Friday morning, trucks full of medical supplies were unloaded at the border as the teams from both sides braved the harsh weather and snow. Meanwhile, a plane carrying 50,000 coronavirus testing kits also arrived in Karachi on March 27. This was the second bulk consignment sent by China’s Alibaba and Jack Ma Foundation within days. On March 25, the foundation sent 500,000 surgical masks and 50,000 N95 respirators to Pakistan. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Consul General of China Li Bijian and other officials received the supplies at Karachi airport.


On March 26, Yan Chen, managing director of Challenge Group of Companies from China called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to donate 15,000 protection suits for Pakistani doctors and paramedical staff on the frontline battling the pandemic. To meet the increasing demand for protective gear, China will help produce the protection suit in Pakistan’s city of Lahore, said the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing. Chinese government and leadership is committed to support Pakistan in combating Covid-19 as their top priority, the ambassador added.

Pakistan will receive around 20 tonnes of medical goods and 20 ventilators on an urgent basis from China this week, said Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Lt. Gen. Mohammed Afzal, during March 27 media talk. Additionally, two more planes would bring 100 tonnes of urgently needed medical equipment from Beijing and Chengdu next week.


Full gear for 30,000 ICU workers
There are currently 194,000 medical health practitioners in Pakistan, of which 30,000 work in ICUs. “These 30,000 medical practitioners working in ICUs will be equipped with complete medical kit by April,” he said. Each box will contain face-shields, goggles, two N95 and 30 surgical masks, hand wash kit.

The number of beds in the intensive care unit (ICUs) in Pakistan currently is 19,670. The capacity of quarantine facilities has also been enhanced from 500 beds to 162,000 now. Pakistan’s Covid-19 command and control centre has also booked 1,795 three-star and four-star hotels where 40,000 patients can be accommodated if required.

There are nearly 2200 ventilators available in public hospitals. The number of the imported ventilators will reach to 1,000 by April 10 to 15, the NDMA chief said. This number would rise to 2,000 to 3,000 by April 25 and the officials expect to enhance it to 8,000 and 10,000 by May.

Pakistan would have enough medical equipment, including personal protection kits, by April 5 to improve the safety of the health officials working on the frontline, said Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza.

Top 3 priorities
Pakistan’s top three priorities under the Covid-19‬ strategy, according to NDMA chairman: ‬

1. Medical gear for doctors & health workers

2. Ventilators & supplies for treatment of patients

3. Coronavirus testing kits

Riaz Haq said...

Coronavirus Testing in Pakistan (2,000) vs India (14,500) is about the same per capita as of March 19. Pakistan has ramped up testing and the latest figure from NIH Pakistan is over 13,000 tests (vs 27,000 in India) as of March 28, 2020.

Number of cases in Pakistan is probably higher than India because of large numbers of people traveling between Pakistan and Iran which is a coronavirus hotspot. Testing in Pakistan is mainly targeted at that group and their family members and contacts in Pakistan.

So far, vast majority of coronavirus infections are among people who came in from Iran. There are a lot fewer local transmissions in Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

#Economic activities in #Pakistan continue as some retailers still buying. “Pakistan is expected to achieve some 50% export target this month (March)..US retail chain Costco is still taking supplies.." Govt trying to make sure #agriculture unhurt. #exports

The rice industry, whose exports are worth $2 billion a year, has also managed to operate. The government will not charge demurrages for delay in clearance of import and export containers at ports.

However, many other industries and services sector, except for the essential ones, will bear losses of billions of rupees due to lockdown in almost the entire country to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The Express Tribune tries to estimate damages to the national economy. “Pakistan is expected to achieve some 50% export target this month (March),” Pakistan Business Council (PBC) CEO Ehsan Malik said.

“The US retail chain Costco is still taking supplies from around the world. Besides, many Asian countries remain operational,” he said.

Pakistan’s average exports came in slightly lower than $2 billion a month in the first eight months (Jul-Feb) of the current fiscal year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

“We are trying to make sure, in collaboration with the government, that those export industries continue to operate whose orders have not been delayed and cancelled by the international buyers,” Malik said. The list of employees of the export industries and those which are considered essential industries and services have been provided to the government and the law enforcement agencies are letting them commute between factories and homes.

These industries include food, pharmaceutical, textile and fast moving consumer goods like soaps, shampoos and detergents, which also come under the essential goods category.

“Essential food and pharmaceutical industries cannot operate in isolation and that is why we have taken permission from the government to let the packaging and printing industry operate as well,” Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Anjum Nisar said.

“Soap and sanitiser manufacturing industries also come under essential goods manufacturers since we need the two products to protect people from coronavirus,” he said.

Malik voiced fear that exports may gradually drop to a very low level in the next three to four months, but stressed that they would gradually return to normal by December 2020. Besides, non-essential industries and services would be badly hit by the lockdown. Many big industrial units including the three Japanese car manufacturers (Toyota, Honda and Suzuki), big textile and cement-makers including Gul Ahmed, Interloop and Lucky Cement have stopped production, according to a private TV channel.

Giving a rough estimate as to how the lockdown would impact the overall economic activity, Malik said, “One-third of the industrial production may be impacted and the share of industrial production in the overall GDP (gross domestic product) stands at around 18%.”

The share of wholesale and retail stands at around 18-20% in GDP. “It may come down by around 20%.”

The share of services sector (like doctors, bankers, lawyers, barbers, tailors and cobblers) has increased to around half of GDP over a period of time. “A majority of them may feel the heat of the melting economy except for the financial sector,” he said. Malik said the agriculture sector, whose share in GDP stood at around 50%, would remain unhurt since the government was making sure that the ready-to-harvest wheat crop was procured to achieve food security.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) revised down its projection for economic growth to 3% last week compared to 3.5% before January 2020.

Riaz Haq said...

#China sends medical personnel, supplies to #Pakistan to combat #coronavirus. Pakistan has 1,408 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths from the illness it causes, #COVID19. Most of the infected people in Pak are travelers returning from neighboring #Iran.

Most people infected by the virus only experience mild symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe respiratory illness and death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems.

Pakistan has closed its borders with both Iran and Afghanistan, but has come under widespread criticism for its initial lax response to the virus.

Even as the pandemic spread to the country, Pakistani authorities allowed tens of thousands of Islamic clerics from around the world to congregate for three days outside the eastern city of Lahore. Some 200 of the clerics are now quarantined at the site of the gathering, a sprawling compound belonging to an Islamic missionaries group, Tableeghi Jamaat.

Many of the visiting clerics at the conference returned to their home countries, some of them carrying the coronavirus. The first two reported cases in the Gaza Strip attended the three-day gathering in Pakistan, and are now under quarantine in Gaza. Other linked cases have emerged elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has refused to impose a countrywide lockdown saying it would devastate the country’s poor, but ordered non-essential businesses closed, including restaurants, money changers and wedding halls.

As of Saturday, the government still had not ordered mosques closed nationwide, instead relying on recommendations to worshippers not to gather for weekly Friday prayers. Pakistani officials are reluctant to defy local hard-line Islamic leaders, who can whip up mobs to protest any perceived insults to religion. Some of these clerics have taken to social media to urge the faithful to fill the mosques, saying it is their religious obligation.

Pakistan’s federal health authorities say the outbreak is so far concentrated in Punjab province, with 490 confirmed cases there, and Sindh province, which has 457 confirmed infections. Other cases are spread throughout several other regions, including the capital, Islamabad.

Health authorities in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province reported one additional death Saturday, a woman in the district of Dir. Ajmal Wazir, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the woman fell sick after returning from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, before dying in a government hospital where she tested positive for the coronavirus.

In Iran, officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control, despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities.

Iran’s government has faced widespread criticism for not acting faster to contain the virus. Only in recent days have authorities ordered nonessential businesses to close and banned travel between cities — long after other nations in the region imposed sweeping lockdowns.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Converts Hundreds of Hotels Into Quarantine Centers. 1,795 3-star and 4-star hotels, with 42,000 single-bed rooms ready to use as #quarantine centers for #coronavirus suspected cases. Also locked 6 hotels with 5-star facilities. #Covid_19

Pakistan has converted hundreds of hotels into temporary quarantine centers, one of several urgent steps to ensure its traditionally ill-prepared public health care system can deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The rapid response, critics say, is unusual in the wake of limited resources facing the cash-strapped country.

Islamabad’s close ally, Beijing, has also stepped in to deliver critical medical staff and supplies to help in limiting the effects of the pandemic. 

Pakistani officials said Friday that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus had risen to at least 1,300, and at least 11 people had died, since the country detected its first case a month ago. 

The number of infections are the highest in South Asia, though Pakistani officials insist the spread is “very slow” compared with rates in other countries.

Chinese aid, struggling health care system

On Friday, China and Pakistan briefly opened their only overland crossing, known as the Khunjerab Pass, 4,700 meters above sea level, to transfer urgent medical supplies from the Chinese side, such as test kits, ventilators, face masks and protective suits.

Chinese private organizations, such as the Alibaba and Jack Ma foundations, have donated hundreds of thousands of face masks, tens of thousands of test kits, and protective suits. 

“We are ready to provide whatever assistance and support to Pakistan. In China we believe in that if you give me a drop of water, I will dig a spring for you,” Yao Jing, Beijing’s ambassador to Islamabad, said in a video message. 

When the coronavirus first emerged last year in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, Pakistan was among the first nations to respond, delivering critical medical supplies to its neighbor and staunch ally.

Critics fear that Pakistan’s strained public health care system, with a history of failing to contain infectious disease and marred by neglect, lack of funds and nepotism, is already strained and not in a position to tackle a major outbreak. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government had launched a massive effort to establish new hospitals and boost capacity of existing health facilities to prepare for such a scenario.

The head of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said Thursday that the process of importing medical equipment had also been set in motion.

General Muhammad Afzal told reporters that, until a month ago, Pakistan had fewer than 500 “so-called” quarantine beds, but the number has since been increased to 162,000.

“This is because we have also booked roughly 1,795 three-star and four-star hotels, with a collective capacity of 42,000 single-bed rooms, to use them as quarantine centers. We have also locked six hotels with five-star facilities if needed,” Afzal said. 

The number of intensive care units in hospitals around Pakistan has risen from 700 just a couple of weeks ago to about 20,000, Afzal said. 

The general said two transport aircraft would be sent to China on Saturday to bring back roughly 100 tonnes of medical equipment. 

The Chinese assistance, Afzal said, includes “walk-thorough testing technology” that will be deployed next week to conduct mass testing in Pakistani cities with higher infections.

Riaz Haq said...

Society has stopped for #coronavirus, but does it have to? Yale's Dr. Katz proposes identifying & quarantining ONLY those who are most vulnerable, and saving coronavirus tests and potential future treatments for them, end #lockdown for the rest. #economy,71525#.XoD-Ee7sVHM.twitter

"I fear our (current) efforts will do little to contain the virus, because we have a resource-constrained, fragmented, perennially underfunded public health system," Katz said. "Distributing such limited resources so widely, so shallowly and so haphazardly is a formula for failure."

The current plan of keeping everyone at home actually puts the most vulnerable — like those who are sick, or grandparents — in a much more precarious position. Because everyone, from all generations, are likely under one roof and interacting with each other, Katz said, the chances of the virus spreading among single families rises exponentially.

"As the virus is already circulating widely in the United States, with many cases going undetected, this is like sending innumerable lit matches into small patches of tinder," Katz said. "Right now, it is harder, not easier, to keep the especially vulnerable isolated from all others — including members of their own families — who may have been exposed to the virus."

This was an element that seemed to have caught Cuomo's attention, especially as some of his own immediate family — like daughter Cara — have returned home in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

"Isolate people, but isolate the vulnerable people," Cuomo said, sharing his interpretation of Katz's proposal. "Don't isolate everyone, because most people are not vulnerable to (coronavirus). And if you isolate all people, you might be actually exposing the most vulnerable people by bringing in a person who is healthier, and stronger, and who may have been exposed to the virus."

Doing that — focusing on a "much smaller" portion of the population — could allow "most of society to return to life as usual, and perhaps prevent vast segments of the economy form collapsing," Katz said.

"Healthy children could return to school, and healthy adults go back to their jobs. Theaters and restaurants could reopen, though we might be wise to avoid very large social gatherings like stadium sporting events and concerts."

While Cuomo says he is looking for ways to bring society back to some normalcy, he doesn't regret his actions so far in trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state.

"But I think there is a line," the governor said. "A spot where those to lines cross. You have to identify it, and that is what we're going to start to work through."

And the sooner that work can begin, the better.

"At some point you have to open the valve," Cuomo said, "because that is oxygen for the economy. Because this is not sustainable."

Riaz Haq said...

As #Coronavirus Attacks #Pakistan, Volunteers Rush Out To Help. Some set up a #quarantine ward for a public hospital, , others make free protective suits for medics and individuals like Pirzada distribute #food. #COVID19

Until last week, Ahsan Pirzada ran a law firm in the Pakistani capital. But on March 22, when businesses shut down across Islamabad, thousands of low-wage Pakistanis lost their jobs, he decided to act.

He raised thousands of dollars through his friends and Facebook acquaintances to buy food. He converted his office into a storehouse and made ration packs with flour, rice, sugar, lentils, milk and cooking oil.

"This is enough for a family of four to five people to survive for 14 days," says Pirzada. He gestures to 35 food packs piled in a friend's pickup truck that he is going to deliver to a nearby slum.

Pakistanis pride themselves on their volunteer culture, and days into countrywide shutdowns to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, citizens have sprung into action.

Pakistan has registered 18 deaths from COVID-19 and has identified 1,650 cases of infection, according to government figures, but officials say the number of people with the coronavirus could be as high as 12,000.

One woman, Irum Mumtaz, set up a quarantine ward for a public hospital, run by volunteers. An entrepreneur, Umer Hussain, makes free protective suits for medics. Individuals like Pirzada distribute food. So do leftist groups like Corona Solidarity Campaign and the Robin Hood Army. A Pakistani nonprofit, The Citizens Foundation, does the same but on scale, using its network of 1,600 low-cost schools to aid 700 villages and slums.

But this pandemic poses unprecedented challenges: Pirzada only has a flimsy mask because there's a global shortage of protective gear. And in previous distributions, people crowded around him. "They're in desperate straits," he says. "They will come close and they will try to grab onto you. You can ask them to stay at a distance, but it doesn't work."

This time, Pirzada tries something new: He and other volunteers will put the rations in a church inside the slum. Then they'll call each designated family to pick up their share.

Pirzada parks near the church and volunteers start unloading the rations. People immediately crowd around, and keep entering the church, despite efforts to keep them out. One woman tugs at Pirzada's sleeve, demanding food. "Please wait five minutes, mother!" Pirzada says. "I've been waiting 10!" she snaps.

Another woman lingers outside, hoping for food, but she's not on Pirzada's distribution list of 35 families. Shabana — she only has one name — says her brothers are out-of-work taxi drivers and they need food.

Pirzada says he'll make another distribution soon. As for his personal safety: another volunteer group will donate him protective gear.

Riaz Haq said...

Bend it like #SanFrancisco Bay Area: Doctors see flatter curve after 2 weeks of #SocialDistance. 6 Bay Area counties in #California first in #US to enforce order requiring residents to stay at home to fight #coronavirus. #SiliconValley #FlattenTheCurve

SAN FRANCISCO — State leaders and doctors are cautiously optimistic that the Bay Area's early moves to lock down residents two weeks ago have prevented surges of coronavirus patients from overwhelming the region's health care capacity thus far.Six Bay Area counties were first in the country to adopt aggressive tactics with an enforceable March 16 order requiring residents to stay at home. Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly followed with a statewide order three days later restricting the state's 40 million residents from all but essential activities.After 14 days — the outermost period at which symptoms are believed to emerge post-infection — doctors at area hospitals are now reporting fewer cases than they expected to see at this point, and officials credit the lockdown with stemming the tide of patients they feared would flood into emergency rooms.Northern California offered a rare glimpse of optimism Monday as the U.S. recorded its most coronavirus deaths in one day and Washington, D.C.-area jurisdictions — Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — issued their first enforceable stay-at-home orders. Health officials across the nation are eyeing the Bay Area as a bellwether to determine the effects of social distancing, since the region's policies were replicated in various states and cities in subsequent days.The Bay Area's primary goal two weeks ago was to slow the growth of serious cases, buying public officials and hospitals enough time to increase the number of hospital beds, respirators and staff necessary to handle a coronavirus surge."We believe very strongly the stay-at-home order has helped advance our efforts in reducing the stress on the system that we believe would have already materialized in more acute ways had we not advanced those protocols when we did," Newsom said Monday in his daily press conference.While officials remain adamant that people stay home and adhere to social-distancing guidelines — the Bay Area Monday extended its stay-at-home order to May 1 — they also are praising residents for following orders and expressing optimism that the measures will continue to work.

Riaz Haq said...

#COVIDー19: #Pakistan rapidly setting up new labs, buying ventilators, testing kits. Pak #test capacity has been enhanced from 30,000 to 280,000 and would be further enhanced to 900,000 by 
mid April plus 3,000 #ventilators, 100,00 #PPEs. #coronavirus

Pakistan is rapidly increasing its capacity to strengthen the health sector to cope with coronavirus pandemic by setting up new labs, buying ventilators, testing kits and protective kits. The government has announced the new initiatives to contain the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 1,800 people in Pakistan so far.

The country has received 10 ventilators from China last week along with thousands of masks and testing kits. “China is sending another shipment which includes 16 ventilators and 5000 protection equipment set that will be delivered to doctors, nurses and paramedics fighting in the front line against the pandemic” Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Lt. Gen. Mohammed Afzal announced.

Pakistan to receive 1,000 ventilators in coming weeks
Pakistan has ordered nearly around 3000 ventilators from around the world and expects to receive at least 1200 within the next 10 days, NDMA chief informed during the March 30 press briefing. Furthermore, Pakistan would receive around 150 more ventilators next week, which have been donated by different countries. There are currently 2200 ventilators available in public hospitals for the critically ill patients.

Testing kits capacity enhanced

Pakistan’s testing capacity has been enhanced from 30,000 to 280,000 and would be further enhanced to 900,000 by
mid April, the officials said on Tuesday. A day earlier, nearly 20,000 testing kits were dispatched to Sindh province, 5000 to Punjab, 4800 to
Balochistan while there are 37,000 kits available to be provided as required and necessary. The country has performed nearly 15,000 coronavirus tests since the outbreak, according to Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza.

Protective gears and thermal gates
Pakistani officials are hopeful that nearly 100,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
 — the key medical gear — would arrive by April 6. Meanwhile, another order of 100,000 PPE sets is expected to arrive by mid April. Pakistan has also procured nearly 100 walk-through thermal gates to be placed at airport gates. Pakistan would have enough medical equipment, including personal protection kits, by April 5 to improve the safety of the health workers, officials say.

Testing labs to be increased to 50
To improve the testing capacity, NDMA is working in close collaboration with NIH to increase the existing number of coronavirus testing labs from 14 to 50 in next 20 days, according to the NDMA chief. The new testing labs would be set up in Islamabad, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Rawalakot, Abbotabad, Sargodha, D I Khan, Gujrat and Bahawalpur in Punjab, two more in Sindh and Balochistan each, to cover a wider population.

Training programme for laboratory specialists
Pakistan is also beginning a training program for the paramedics and laboratory staff to overcome the shortcomings. Initially, NDMA would recruit 100 lab technicians with expertise in molecular biology. “We will offer 6-month contract to these lab technicians and if the program is successful then it will help overcome laboratories gaps for testing patients,” NDMA chief added.

All health workers in ICU to be immediately equipped
At least 16,700 PPE suits are being delivered to hospitals across the country. The government officials have assured that all of the 30,000 medical health practitioners working in intensive care unit (ICUs) would be equipped with a complete medical kit by early April. They would each be provided a set of face-shields, goggles, two N95 and 30 surgical masks, hand wash kit. Meanwhile, the number of beds in the intensive care unit (ICUs) has been increased to 19,670. The capacity of quarantine facilities has also been enhanced to 162,000 now.

Riaz Haq said...

Millions of daily wage earners in #Pakistan are in desperate need of help during #coronavirus lockdown. Please make #US tax-deductible charitable donations online to: Edhi and Hidaya Foundations. Edhi has a #COVID19 fund. Links:

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistani manufactured #coronavirus testing kits, #ventilators to hit markets soon. Coronavirus test kits developed by NUST & ventilators developed by NED University submitted to Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) for approval. #COVIDー19

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain is hopeful that the locally manufactured ventilators and testing kits would hit the market in the coming days, as Pakistan fights against the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Talking to local media, Chaudhry said that the coronavirus testing kits developed by Pakistan's National University of Science and Technology (NUST) have been handed to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) for final approval.

Similarly, the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) has developed ventilators, in collaboration with NED and Pakistan Engineering Board, which will be handed over to DRAP this week. The minister said that he is in talks with various ministries and is hopeful that the products will hit the market in the coming days.

Earlier, in a tweet post, Chaudhry said that two measures of the Ministry of Science were in the final stages of approval which includes the corona testing kits and ventilators

“Two initiatives of the Ministry of Science and Technology are in final stages of approval 1) Corona Testing Kits (NUST) 2) Ventilators (PEC) this will immensely bring down costs of war against coronavirus. We have enhanced capacity of PCSIR production of hand sanitizers and health departments and banks are facilitating," he tweeted.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases in the country has crossed over 1600 tally. There are 508 confirmed coronavirus cases in Sindh, 593 in Punjab, 144 in Balochistan and 195 in KP. Similarly, Gilgit-Baltistan has reported 128 cases, Islamabad 51 and Azad Kashmir six.

The country has reported 18 deaths due to the virus while 32 patients have also recovered.

Riaz Haq said...

The law of generosity combatting #coronavirus in #Pakistan. Amid the #COVID19 pandemic, #Pakistanis are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Specifically, many are offering zakat (#Muslim #charity) via @BBC_Travel

Outside grocery stores in Karachi, a remarkable scene has been unfolding over the past two weeks. Instead of rushing home after shopping to avoid being exposed to coronavirus, many Pakistanis are pausing outside to offer food, money or other charity to the many people on the street with no “place” to shelter-in-place. These generous offers are often accompanied with a request to the recipient: “Pray that [the coronavirus] ends soon.”

Like many nations, Pakistan has imposed strict containment measures in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, including closing schools, banning public gatherings and shuttering all businesses that don’t sell groceries or medicine. But unlike some other countries that have ordered similar measures, the effects of a prolonged lockdown here could have much more dire economic – and potentially fatal – consequences.

In a recent coronavirus-related address to the nation, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, stated that “25% of Pakistanis cannot afford to eat two times a day.” As the country issues more stringent lockdown measures and forces people to stay home, many daily wage earners here – from street-food vendors to shoe-shiners – now haven’t earned a rupee in weeks, and they’re going hungry.

In the same televised address, Khan summed up Pakistan’s grave reality: "If we shut down the cities… we save them from corona[virus] at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side … Pakistan does not have the conditions that are in the United States or Europe. Our country has grave poverty."

But it also has hope.

Amid the pandemic, Pakistanis are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Specifically, many are offering zakat, the traditional Muslim charity tax, for daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance or financial safety net.

In Arabic, “zakat” translates to “that which purifies”, and, according to the Five Pillars of Islam, it is one of the most important religious duties for Muslims. This mandatory alms-giving is calculated at 2.5% of a person’s annual excess wealth. Strict parameters exist outlining the nisab,or threshold, beyond which a Muslim’s assets become liable for zakat, as well as who is eligible to receive it. Stemming from the belief that this world is transient and all is bestowed from the benevolence of the Creator, zakat upholds the idea that those less fortunate have a share in everything the community temporarily owns.


According to a report by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Pakistan contributes more than 1% of its GDP to charity, placing it among “far wealthier countries like the United Kingdom (1.3%) and Canada (1.2%) and around twice what India gives relative to GDP.” And a nationwide study found that 98% of Pakistanis give to charity or volunteer their time – a figure that far exceeds the number of people who are legally obligated to offer zakat.

Riaz Haq said...

Hussain Dawood of #Pakistan’s Dawood Group announced Rs 1 billion aid for people affected by #coronavirus pandemic. #COVID19

Business giant Engro has announced it would be pledging Rs1billion to the prime minister’s relief fund for coronavirus.

“Mr Hussain Dawood, today, on behalf of Engro, Dawood Hercules and his family pledged a contribution in services, kind and cash of PKR 1 billion for the short, medium and long-term,” a statement read.

The statement further said Dawood was committed to helping solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. “It incumbent upon us to serve our nation best when it needs us most. These are our fundamental values, that continue to be at the core of what we strive to achieve.”

He emphasised, “We must work on several fronts concurrently. The need of the hour is to target on reducing the spread and impact of this virus.”

The group further said it would focus on disease prevention, with a major focus on testing and diagnostics, protecting and enabling healthcare practitioners and other key workers, who are at the frontline of the fight against this pandemic, enabling patient care and facilities; and to bolster livelihoods and sustenance of the most deserving in society.

The company also welcomed the efforts by the government and other organisations who have stepped up to this challenge.

Prime minister's relief fund

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday had announced a relief fund to fight the coronavirus epidemic and urged everyone to donate.

"Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund-2020 has been set up to help us fight this pandemic. I want everyone to donate towards this fund which will be used to take care of all those who have been made destitute by the lockdown," the premier said on Twitter.

PM Imran urged the citizens to send their tax-deductible donation to account number 4162 786 786 set up at the main branch of National Bank of Pakistan in Karachi.

Sindh’s virus relief fund receives more than Rs41mn in private donations

Adviser to Chief Minister Sindh on Law and Environment Murtaza Wahab on Thursday said that the coronavirus relief fund of the Sindh government had received Rs41m from private donors.

"Fund as on 1st April had received a contribution of Rs 2,849,315,486 from Sindh Govt & Rs 41,325,671 from private donors. Every day we will mention the total donation received & also mention the expenses incurred in respect of corona relief," he wrote on Twitter.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan extends lockdown to stem #coronavirus spread. Nearly 80% of the confirmed cases in Pakistan had recently returned from #Iran and #Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan on Wednesday announced a two-week extension in an ongoing lockdown in the wake of rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the country.

"The government has decided to continue the current restrictions on public movement until April 14," Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar told a news conference in capital Islamabad after a meeting on dealing with the pandemic.

The lockdown, Umar observed, had significantly added to the government's efforts to stem the spread of the virus. " That's why, the government has decided to continue the restrictions, except for the goods transportation, for two more weeks."

Islamabad also announced partial resumption of international flights, mainly to bring nearly 2,000 Pakistanis stranded in different countries, from April 4. However, all the domestic flights will remain suspended until further order, according to the minister.

Initially, state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will be allowed to operate 17 flights from Islamabad airport to bring back the stranded Pakistanis from Turkey, U.K., Canada, Azerbaijan, and other countries from April 4 to April 11.

The decision, Umar said, to continue or suspend the international flights would be taken after reviewing the week-long operations.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan has risen to 2,007 with more than 150 confirmed in the last 24 hours, officials said Wednesday.

The country’s death toll jumped to 27, while 12 patients are in critical condition.

Nearly 80% of the confirmed cases had recently returned from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

So far, 82 patients have recovered and were discharged from the hospital, the Health Ministry said.

After first appearing in Wuhan, China last December, the virus has spread to at least 180 countries and territories, according to U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Its data shows the number of confirmed cases worldwide have surpassed 885,600, with the death toll over 44,200 and more than 185,400 recoveries.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan with a score of 35.5 ranks 105/195 countries on global health security index.

It is rated as more prepared on a scale from most to least prepared.

Riaz Haq said...



Johns Hopkins

Riaz Haq said...

Testing facilities have been established in all the provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, it said.

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) indigenously developed COVID-19 testing kits which have been sent to DRAP Technical Assessment Committee for comprehensive checking.

It said 13,000 surveillance centres had been set up across the country with public awareness messages disseminated through all modes of media.


The government submitted on Saturday to the Supreme Court of Pakistan a report on its national action plan for combating the coronavirus epidemic spreading across the country.

In its report, the government detailed the situation arising in the wake of the pandemic and the severity of suspected cases.

“By April 25, the number of the coronavirus cases are feared to reach 50,000,” the report stated at one point.

According to the breakdown provided in the report, around 7,000 cases of the total are expected to be critical in nature while around 2,500 could be a cause for concern. The government estimates that a further 41,000 cases could be of a mild nature.

The report notes that confirmed cases are expected to be lower than that of countries in Europe, and assures that the government is trying to maximize its testing capacity.

The federal government has said that it has put in place an emergency plan costing $366 million and guidelines have been prepared in consultation from the medical experts.

“All the airports have special counters to monitor coronavirus,” it mentions in the report, adding that around 222 suspected patients have been traced thanks to entry and exit point checking at airports.

The areas adjacent to Iran and along the Balochistan border have declared an emergency to cope with incoming infected individuals, it says.

“Preparations were made to place patients in 154 districts under quarantine,” said the government report.

As of Saturday, Pakistan has recorded more than 2,700 cases and 40 deaths.

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus: How #Pakistan is using #technology to transfer Rs. 150 billion ($900 million) cash to people in need. #COVID19 via @ConversationUK

Cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the new coronavirus are spreading quickly in Pakistan. Considering that the nation shares borders with two global epicentres of the pandemic – Iran and China – the situation could have been worse. There have been more than 2,000 infections from the virus in Pakistan and 26 deaths linked to it, according to the most recent data.

Provincial leaders, particularly in the Sindh province, have been relatively efficient in imposing lockdowns. But there has been a lack of clarity at federal level. Much of the uncertainty came from a comment made by the prime minister, Imran Khan, in late March:

If we shut down the cities … we will save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side.

A consensus on slowing down the number of cases has nevertheless emerged. While there is still no official national lockdown, provincial governments have imposed their own versions. In most parts of the country, public gatherings have been banned, schools closed, and all shops other than those selling groceries or medicines shut.

Tough choices
For Pakistan, the balancing act between averting a health crisis and keeping the economy afloat has been complicated by widespread poverty. Around 39% of Pakistani households live in poverty. Because of this, an economic shutdown could produce a humanitarian disaster when the incomes of poor daily wage workers vanish.

In an emergency relief package announced in late March, the government allocated Rs150 billion (£734 million) in cash support for the poorest 12.5 million households. The government says this will benefit some 67 million people. Some of this will be funded by support from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and will be transferred to recipients by the Pakistani government over the next few months.

While more details on the initiative are expected to emerge in the coming weeks, statements from officials indicated the government would use the infrastructure of existing social assistance programmes to disperse the cash. Given that these are reliant on digital data, administrators must be transparent about the criteria for eligibility. And they must provide ways for people to challenge decisions for those who find themselves excluded.


The emergency cash transfer programme has been likened to a basic income scheme – even though the Rs12,000 lump sum amount is a fraction of the Rs17,500 minimum legal monthly wage for 2019.

The selection criteria for the new emergency measures are based on those for an ambitious programme called Ehsaas, which was launched in March 2019 as a set of initiatives to create social safety nets and reduce inequality. Many Ehsaas schemes rely heavily on digital data. One of the most prominent projects, known as Kafalaat uses data analytics to decide who can receive cash transfers from the government.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan is leading the way with its #welfare state – the world can learn from its innovation. PM #ImranKhan's #Ehsaas initiative is one of the most comprehensive welfare programs ever by a national government. #EhsaasEmergencyCash via @Telegraph

This is why we should all be looking with particular interest at the work underway in Pakistan to build a sustainable welfare state. Called Ehsaas, which in Urdu literally means ‘empathy’, the new initiative is one of the most comprehensive welfare programmes ever undertaken by a national government, with an underlying ambition to create a social safety net for Pakistan that could transform the lives of millions. It is enormously wide-ranging and ambitious.


Despite some progress since the turn of the millennium, a quarter of people in Pakistan still live in poverty, with rates of rural poverty more than double those in urban areas. With one of the fastest growing populations in the world, Pakistan will have to create a million new jobs each year just to keep up with the number of young people entering the job market. Educational attainment is some of the worst in the region and health indicators are not promising, demonstrated by the fact that Pakistan is one of only two countries where the wild poliovirus remains endemic.

This is the context in which Ehsaas is seeking to end the cycle of poverty faced by many Pakistanis. Acknowledging that no single area will unlock this ambition alone, Ehsaas encompasses 134 policies that range from tackling corruption to creating educational opportunities to providing the elderly with decent homes.

The programme is led by Dr Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, who has been mandated by Prime Minister Imran Khan to work in partnership across multiple federal ministries that these policies will be driven by, as well with provincial governments who have devolved powers including on education and health. Without a multisectoral approach, it would not be possible to create the welfare state envisioned by Ehsaas.

The launch of a countrywide public consultation was particularly important as it was the first time a public policy in Pakistan had been developed in this way and demonstrates a new level of openness and transparency. Ehsaas’s impact will hopefully go much further than the borders of Pakistan. It will provide many lessons for low-, middle- and high-income countries.

Riaz Haq said...

Trying to beat #coronavirus in #Pakistan: 'So far we are managing it'. "I think lockdown was the only option - the only solution for this disease. "Our government took the step very quickly and after that we were able to control this ... spread." #COVID19

A Pakistani businessman said strict lockdown of the country's 204 million people was causing serious hardship, but it was saving lives.

The Al Jazeera news agency reported 40 deaths so far from Covid-19 in Pakistan, and more than 2600 cases of infection.

Aly Hossain is a businessman in the Punjab capital Lahore - a city of 12m, now in its 21st day of lockdown, after what was meant to be 14 days.

He said it was causing a lot of hardship, but there was little option for containing the spread of the deadly virus.

"I think lockdown was the only option - the only solution for this disease.

"Our government took the step very quickly and after that we were able to control this ... spread."

News agencies reported that Pakistan, despite its close proximity with China, remained coronavirus-free until the 26 February when a young man from Karachi tested positive after returning from Iran - one of the worst-hit countries.

After a brief hiatus following the first case, Covid-19 cases spiked as more pilgrims returning from Iran tested positive for the virus.

Hossain said Lahore was right now deserted, which he had never before seen.

"It feels like ... it's a very different kind of situation, right now. We have never seen it like this before, in my life.

"Everything is closed, businesses are closed and people are scared of what will happen in the future."

Hossain said the country faced many problems.

"I talk about my business, which is currently closed. I have to manage a little factory so we are closed, and we are at home and we don't do anything."

He said the government was trying to help but it did not have sufficient funds to relieve the scale of need.

The World Bank announced at the weekend it had approved a $US200m ($NZ340m) package to help Pakistan take effective action against the Covid-19 pandemic by strengthening the country's national healthcare systems and mitigating socio-economic disruptions.

The focus would be on the health sector, but would also help the poor and vulnerable cope with the immediate impact of the pandemic through social protection measures, food rations, and remote learning education.

Hossain supported his wife and young daughter, his parents and siblings, and said many were relying on charity and family to survive.

He was not sure when they might begin to see any improvement, but hoped it would be soon.

"We don't have any clear picture right now about what is going to happen but the government is telling us to prepare for 10 more days, then this lockdown will be over and we will be back to business."

Hossain said that in general, and despite the difficulties, the population seemed calm and hopeful of a good outcome.

"They are always very optimistic - they don't do panic and they always try to manage in any condition and in any situation, and so far we are managing it.

"We are hoping for the best."

The World Bank Group said in a news release at the weekend that it was rolling out a $US14 billion ($NZ24b) fast-track package to strengthen the Covid-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery.

The immediate response included financing, policy advice and technical assistance to help countries cope with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan reports death of 3rd doctor from #coronavirus. Dr. Abdul Qadir Soomro, 70, a veteran physician in #Karachi, managed a #charity #hospital for Jamaat-e-Islami's Al-khidmat Foundation -- among largest relief agencies in Pak. May his soul RIP. Amen.

Pakistan on Monday reported the demise of another doctor from coronavirus, raising safety concerns among health professionals who have been complaining about lack of proper safety gears.

Dr. Abdul Qadir Soomro, a veteran physician, breathed his last at a local hospital in southern port city of Karachi, becoming the third doctor in the country who succumbed to the virus.

Soomro, 70 was the administrator of a charity hospital, run by Al-khidmat Foundation -- the country's one of the largest relief agencies -- in the eastern outskirts of Karachi, where he had established an isolation ward for suspected coronavirus patients, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

His death brought the number of casualties from COVID-19 to 52 in the country.

The number of infection cases in the country has risen to 3,277, as 397 news cases were reported over the past 24 hours.

A total of 257 patients, of them 130 on Monday, have recovered, while 17 are in critical condition.

So far, the northeastern Punjab province reported 1,493 cases, Sindh 881, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 405, southwestern Balochistan 191, northern region of Gilgit Baltistan 210, the capital Islamabad 82 and Azad Jammu and Kashmir confirmed 15 cases of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the virus also spread into the country's jails, with 49 cases confirmed in jails of Punjab province alone.

"We have 1,493 confirmed cases in Punjab, among them 49 are prisoners who are currently under quarantine," Usman Buzdar, chief minister of Punjab, said on Twitter.

Since appearing in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 183 countries and regions, according to figures compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The data shows more than 1.29 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the global death toll nearing 70,800, and more than 270,300 recoveries.

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus : UC Berkeley historian compares #COVID19 and #polio epidemic of 1950s. “Look at polio. Movie theaters closed. Church services cancelled. Kids home from school. Swimming pools closed. It shut down American towns." - ABC7 San Francisco

April 12 will mark the 65th year since Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.

It's poignant, considering what the human race is dealing with now.

If we're going to talk about history, best to begin in the present, and what strange times these are. It used to be we that we looked at masked men suspiciously.

Now, with the threat of COVID-19, it's the other way around.

If this feels like unfamiliar territory, that would be only to this generation. Smallpox killed 500 million people over hundreds of years.

In the first half of the 20th century, infectious diseases were the biggest killers. There was nothing we could do about them.

"We have been fortunate to live in a time free of the scariest pandemic diseases in human history," said Dr. Elena Conis, a medical historian at UC Berkeley.

"Look at polio. Movie theaters closed. Church services cancelled. Kids home from school. Swimming pools closed. It shut down American towns."

We saw examples of that in a documentary called "The Shot that Saved the World," about Dr. Jonas Salk and the fight for a polio cure.

"What people have to realize is that polio was the most feared disease in America," said Carl Kurlander, who produced the film. "In 1952, there were 53,000 cases."

Where we worry about having not enough ventilators now, we faced a shortage of iron lung machines then.

Polio paralyzed people, mostly children. The mechanical lungs would breathe for them.

Then, as now, parents and relatives could not visit the crowded polio wards for fear of spread.

"In both cases, you are dealing with an unseen enemy like in a horror film. You don't know who it will attack next," said Kurlander. "They were paranoid. Then, like now, we were up against a virus that doesn't discriminate."

There were differences, too. Americans had more faith back in the 1940s and 50s. They believed in doctors, the March of Dimes and the government.

Now, we have so many pointed fingers. "Today, it feels like a red or blue strategy," said Kurlander. "Then, we felt we could all win and defeat a common enemy."

After Dr. Salk found the polio vaccine, he did not claim a patent. "It would be like patenting the sum," Salk told Edward R. Murrow. "This vaccine belongs to the people."

The people ran with it. Americans enjoyed an extended period free of fears, pretty much until AIDS came along.

Khan said...

الحمد اللہ پاکستان میں کورونا حوالے سے شاندار خبر کل 7 اپریل ملک میں نئے مریضوں میں محض 140 کیسز کا اضافہ ہوا جبکہ 6 اپریل کو 577، 5 اپریل کو407، 4 اپریل 172, 3 اپریل 258، 2 اپریل 161، 1 اپریل 250 کیسز رپورٹ ہوئے تھے گویا الحمد اللہ پاکستان میں کورنا سمٹ رہا ہے شکر اللہ

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's #coronavirus growth rate is slowing. #COVID19 curve is starting to flatten relative to its #Asian peers.

Riaz Haq said...

#India Could Be on the Brink of a #Coronavirus Catastrophe — and #Modi Will Be to Blame for failing to take preemptive action against a #pandemic that may overwhelm its underfunded #health services. #BJP #Hindutva #Islamophobia #COVID19\

It’s anyone’s guess how seriously the virus will impact India. The complete lack of preparation that has defined government responses is accompanied by a conspicuous lack of testing; as a result, no even vaguely reliable figures are available to track the trajectory of the virus, and the numbers quoted at the start of this article may well have been massive underestimates of the true figures.

One theory doing the rounds is that the virus doesn’t survive for long in temperatures above 32ºC. Another view, recently expressed by a medical professional, is that the particular strain of the virus circulating in India is much less aggressive than the strains found in badly stricken countries like Italy. Whatever the truth may be, the fact remains that India has the lowest government expenditure on public health of all the major countries in the world.


India had 2,902 confirmed coronavirus cases and 68 deaths by April 4. That may not sound especially high for a country of more than a billion people, but the first serious government response to the global spread of the virus only came on March 24, more than three weeks after the first cases had been reported: all were from Kerala, and involved students who had returned from Wuhan.

Indeed, a month earlier, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, brought no fewer than 125,000 people together into one stadium in Ahmedabad to give Donald Trump a sort of royal welcome on his visit to the country. Modi and his allies justified the extravagance of this event on the grounds that it would lead to major trade deals between India and the United States.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. But the gathering also underlined the lack of seriousness that characterized the government’s approach to the impending health disaster, despite repeated warnings. Just as he was being feted in Gujarat, Trump was asking Congress for $1.25 billion to bolster US preparations for the crisis. As late as March 12, however, India’s health ministry was still announcing publicly that the COVID-19 crisis did not amount to a “health emergency.”

Since then, this utter lack of foresight and preparedness has forced Modi into a series of largely rhetorical gestures, such as appealing for — in effect, orchestrating — a one-day shutdown (called a “curfew”) that was followed the same evening by the banging of pots and pans and celebrations in the street. Modi then ordered a sudden, rapidly announced lockdown of the entire country on March 24 — at just four hours’ notice, with no real warning or preparation, let alone any carefully thought-out plan for millions of casual and migrant workers and their families, who would be forced into a sudden loss of income and accommodation in the metropolitan labor markets where they worked.

The national lockdown triggered massive reverse flows of labor, with the families of workers flooding into major bus stations in their thousands, or trekking for hundreds of miles on foot to get back to their villages. Many were forcibly stopped at state borders and sprayed with disinfecting chemicals by the authorities. The repeated displays of police brutality against these workers could not fail to recall events a month earlier in the country’s capital, when the Delhi police either refused to offer protection to the Muslim victims during a series of coordinated pogroms, or actively participated in the assaults themselves.

Riaz Haq said...

#Gwadar port stays largely unaffected by global #Coronavirus #pandemic. According to the latest head count, there are two #Chinese employees and 140 #Pakistani employees working at Gwadar Port in #Balochistan, #Pakistan. #COVID19 #CPEC

Despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the Gwadar Port which is a major project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is functioning well.

The comment came in response to a Global Times report which presumed Chinese teams are unable to return to their posts amid the pandemic that has stalled many Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.

It is pertinent to mention that a large number of projects under the BRI employ a limited number of Chinese staff and rely on local employees for most roles.

According to the latest head count, there are two Chinese employees and 140 Pakistani employees working at Gwadar Port.

“The port is functioning well. Chinese workers have returned to their posts, after completing their 14-day self-imposed quarantine,” a source close to the senior management at the port told the Global Times.

“The port’s operations have not halted. That’s the nature of our business. We take turns to take some holidays.”

The source further said that while there is no negative impact on the port’s operations, it cannot remain unaffected by the impact the coronavirus has had on global shipping.

“Many ships swing by Gwadar after visiting a number of other ports first. and with global shipping being disrupted by the pandemic, there has been quite some re-routing which has affected the port,” the source said.

The Gwadar Port began to play a new role as an economical transit stop and time-saving trade port for land-locked Afghanistan when it shipped fertilizer in January. As Pakistan entered its lockdown last week, the port abided by the government’s orders and put some projects on hold in the Free Trade Zone. Construction of a steel tube factory was halted and a business center closed as precautionary measures to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading.

Business development to attract foreign investors has also come to a temporary halt. The port itself has been sealed off for outsiders and the number of non-essential visits have been cut to a minimum. However, the pandemic is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the port’s development, which is measured on a scale of years rather than months.

In a recent interview with the aforesaid foreign media outlet, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said CPEC construction won’t be impacted in the long run, although it could face a slowdown in the short run.

“As soon as we are over the hump of dealing with the coronavirus, I think we’ll be back on track,” Qureshi said. “After the temporary dip, things will grow back quickly and the entire region stands to benefit from the projects.”

Riaz Haq said...

IMF’s Approval for Emergency Funds Helps Boost Pakistan Stocks Faseeh Mangi Bookmark April 09 2020, 12:01 PM April 09 2020, 10:32 PM (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani stocks rose after the International Monetary Fund said it plans to disburse about $1.4 billion in emergency financing next week to help the nation shield its economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

“The IMF and the Pakistani authorities are working hard for a prompt approval and disbursement” in a single installment, Teresa Daban Sanchez, IMF’s chief in Pakistan, said in a response to questions on April 8. The emergency loan will be on top of the $6 billion financial package the south Asian nation secured from the global lender last year.

The benchmark KSE-100 Index rose 2.8% to close at the highest since March 17 while the rupee gained 0.3% to 167.19 per dollar. The nation’s key stock index has recovered 17% in the past two weeks after dropping 37% in the global turmoil.

The loan will help boost the nation’s foreign exchange reserves that fell by about 13% in March, the biggest monthly drop in almost a year. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced multiple stimulus packages of more than 400 billion rupee rupees ($2.4 billion) to counter the shocks of the pandemic that slowed down the economy. The outbreak has infected 4,322 people and 63 have died as the country last week extended its lock down till April 14.

The nation’s economy will expand 0.8% in 2020 compared with earlier forecast of 2.8%, according to a Bloomberg survey conducted this month. Pakistan’s rupee has dropped 8.4% in about a month that makes it the second worst performer in Asia this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency is under pressure as global investors have sold local currency treasury bills worth $1.7 billion after eight successive months of purchases that totaled $3.1 billion.

Riaz Haq said...

National Heath Chief Zafar Mirza: Fewer Covid-19 deaths in #Pakistan doesn't mean we stop being careful. 73% #COVID19 deaths among patients with pre-existing health issues, 85% of those who died from #coronavirus above age 50 while 78% of them were males.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza on Thursday said low Covid-19 deaths in Pakistan does not mean people start becoming lax about preventive measures against the virus outbreak.

Speaking at a news briefing in Islamabad, Mirza said: "I am seeing reports on some media programmes that Pakistan's Covid-19 death rates are lower as compared to projections made through modelling. While it is true to some extent that Pakistan has lesser coronavirus cases and a lower death rate than projected by experts, it is not a reason for citizens to become lax."

He said the restrictions imposed by the government on large gatherings and social contact had an effect on the infection rate, "but if people think we don't need those preventive measures and we don't need social distancing, it would be a very big mistake".

Stressing the need for more prevention and responsibility, Mirza warned that the country could see a sharp rise in the number of cases and deaths if people were not careful and started going out.

Talking about Covid-19 deaths he said that 73 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in the country were of people who had pre-existing health conditions, adding that 85pc of those who died from Covid-19 were above the age of 50 while 78pc of them were males.

Mirza added that the government was creating a mechanism whereby personal protection equipment (PPE) would be provided to health professionals in hospitals in such a way that shortage was not observed.

He said the National Disaster and Management Authority (NDMA) after its calculations had provided PPEs, including N-95 masks, gowns and gloves to 152 hospitals for a week. These are the hospitals where most coronavirus patients would be brought, he added.

"We have a list of some 400 hospitals and all of them will be provided PPEs, and on a priority basis."

The PM's aide on health said the government would facilitate firms wishing to manufacture ventilators locally through a committee formed under the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap).

Through the committee, the firms' applications would be processed as soon as possible so that production could be started in order to overcome shortage, he revealed.

'Burden on hospitals will increase by month's end'
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan during an earlier media briefing said that he believed the burden on the country's healthcare system would increase by the end of this month, but Balochistan might not face a worsening situation due to sparse population.

He added that the government was analysing data of coronavirus cases not just in the country but also in the United Kingdom and United States as well.

He said that the government was also looking at the numbers in India and Bangladesh as their population trends were similar to Pakistan's.

Riaz Haq said...

How zakat, the #Islamic #charity tax, is helping #Pakistan fight its #coronavirus battle. Several organizations are using the donations to feed the hungry and provide medical assistance to those who need it. #Covid19 #philanthropy via @ThePrintIndia

The ‘zakat’, a traditional tax levied on the financially sound Muslims as a form of almsgiving to the poor, is helping Pakistan fight against the spread of coronavirus in the country. Zakat is 2.5 per cent of a family’s yearly savings in the form of cash, gold or silver.

Several people in Pakistan are offering to donate their zakat — considered one of the five pillars of Islam — to the poor and needy who are especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Charitable organisations, hospitals, and even Pakistan’s top religious authority, the Council of Islamic Ideology, have called upon the Pakistan’s rich to donate their zakat early.

The zakat is usually given around Ramzan and is obligatory for financially sound Muslims.

Several organisations are using the donations to feed the hungry and provide medical assistance to those who need it. Pakistan has over 4,500 positive cases of Covid-19, and has reported 66 deaths.

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus updates: #COVID19 cases in #India jump top 6,400. #Maharashtra remains the worst affected state with over 1,300 cases. Followed by #TamilNadu at 834 and #Delhi at 720, #Rajasthan at 463 and #Telangana at 442. #Modi #BJP #economy #pandemic

With 678 new cases reported in past 24 hours, the total number of coronavirus cases in India has jumped to 6412, showed latest figures from Union Health Ministry. The death toll from COVID-19 rose to 199 while 503 patients have been cured of the virus or discharged. Maharashtra remains the worst affected state with 1,364 cases, followed by Tamil Nadu at 834 and Delhi at 720, Rajasthan at 463 and Telangana at 442.

According to ICMR, nearly 1.3 lakh samples have been tested for coronavirus so far in the country. From making masks mandatory to restricting movement of people in areas identified as COVID-19 hotspots, authorities across several states have beefed up enforcement measures to contain the deadly virus outbreak as the nationwide tally of confirmed cases neared 6,500 mark.

Odisha on Thursday became the first state to extend the lockdown further till April 30 and also announced closure of schools till June 17.

The central government has announced a ₹15,000 crore "India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package".

Here is total coronavirus cases in India, state-wise

Andhra Pradesh - 348

Andaman and Nicobar Islands - 11

Arunachal Pradesh - 1

Assam - 29

Bihar - 39

Chandigarh - 18

Chhattisgarh - 10

Delhi - 720

Goa - 7

Gujarat - 241

Haryana - 169

Himachal Pradesh - 18

Jammu and Kashmir - 158

Jharkhand - 13

Karnataka -181

Kerala - 357

Ladakh - 15

Madhya Pradesh - 259

Maharashtra - 1364

Manipur - 2

Mizoram - 1

Odisha - 44

Puducherry - 5

Punjab - 101

Rajasthan - 463

Tamil Nadu - 834

Telangana - 442

Tripura - 1

Uttarakhand - 35

Riaz Haq said...

After nearly 55,000 tests, #Coronavirus case curve in #Pakistan continues to flatten at lower levels relative to #India and #Asia.

Riaz Haq said...

More medical supplies from #China reach #Islamabad, including 59 #ventilators, 936kg of #masks, #protective #suits, safety lenses, thermometers & 1720 kg of unstitched cloth for surgical gowns. NDMA will distribute these to all provinces. #PPE #coronavirus

While talking to media, Chairman NDMA Lt General Mohammad Afzal stated that the consignment that arrived on Saturday was received by Minister of Climate Change Zartaj Gul at Islamabad International Airport.

He also said that Pakistan had the capacity to test virus patients across the country for another 75 days. "The supply of goods that arrived from China will be sent out to all small-scale hospitals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other provinces," he said.

The chairman went on to say that all supplies were purchased on the finances allocated by the federal government, and no provincial funds were used for the procurement of the medical relief equipment. “Army chief has also ensured testing facility in 11 army laboratories," he informed reporters.

Another shipment of resources from China was received by NDMA on Friday. The consignment included medical equipment such as PCR testing kits, mobile X-ray machines, Chinese KN95 masks, disposable medical masks and water-impermeable surgical gowns.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistani fashion designer Muhammad Asim Jofa is currently making full-body suits to be used as personal protective equipment (#PPE) by #healthcare professionals. #COVIDー19 #Coronavirus


Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan bans #export of anti-malaria drugs. International demand for #chloroquine and #hydroxychloroquine has jumped in the last fortnight. Both have been identified by the #US #FDA as possible treatments for #coronavirus. #COVID19

Islamabad: Pakistan has banned the export of anti-malaria drugs after several countries, including the US, started using the medicines to treat coronavirus patients, according to a media report.

The ban, which has been imposed with immediate effect, will remain till the National Coordination Committee (NCC) on COVID-19 deems necessary, according to a notification released by the Commerce Ministry on Friday amidst a spike  ..

Riaz Haq said...

Crises, #technology and social protection. #Pakistan's National Database & Registration Authority NADRA with its database of 122 million citizens plays a pivotal role in dealing with disasters such as #coronavirus. #EhsaasEmergencyCash #COVID19 #Ehsaas

NATURAL disasters or crises expose state fragility, but also present a valuable opportunity for change. They are creative moments to transform governance through testing innovative technical solutions. Today’s ‘Ehsaas’ programme is built on the platform of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which was established in 2008 but went through a learning curve by incorporating the lessons learnt in the IDP crisis in 2009 and flash floods in 2010. If handled well, Covid-19 could allow us to radically transform and upgrade our social protection regime.

The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) can play a pivotal role in any such transformation as it has been dealing with disasters in the past. It houses the real and unique sets of biometric as well as biographical data of its 122 million citizens.

Nadra’s inclusive and robust database had proven time and again that it can increase access to critical services and benefits. The authority has been in the technology frontline in all disasters. Identity authentication and credential verification of the victims of disaster, performed by Nadra, are the key steps for any kind of relief or benefit in kind or cash transfer.

The massive flash floods in 2010 affected about 20 million people across the country. There was already a trust deficit between the donors and the previous government, triggered by mismanagement of donor funds for the 2005 earthquake.

Despite bureaucratic resistance, Nadra’s technical team used this moment to pioneer an ID-based solution that devised a secure and accurate way of identifying the affected population and ensuring transparent disbursements. Using the citizens’ database, Nadra teamed up with commercial banks to issue an ATM card, known as the ‘Watan Card’. The cash that was uploaded on these cards could be drawn by the targeted beneficiaries without any hassle.

Previously, a similar solution was rolled out to people internally displaced by the Army operation against terrorists in Swat and Malakand in 2009. This experience strengthened Nadra’s response in the wake of floods because, by this time, we had learnt to implement more stringent validation checks for ensuring the eligibility of targeted beneficiaries.

With the support of World Bank and other donors, an amount of Rs77 billion was distributed among 2.84 million families, an average of over Rs27,000 per family.

Eligible families were given ATM cards loaded with cash that were activated upon registration. The money spent by these families supported the local economy. The benefits even spread to neighbouring districts not directly affected.


Eligible BISP beneficiaries are identified through proxy means testing. Households receiving a score of 16 and below are deemed eligible for the BISP or Ehsaas cash transfer. The same platform can be used to devise a social protection scheme for daily wagers.

The data can be refined further by reconciling it with data analytics from Nadra’s citizen database. The database contains a dedicated field that classifies the profession of ID card holders, which can be used to identify, to the best approximation, the segment of daily wagers. Complimentary databases from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the State Bank and FBR could also be used to define a precise categorisation.

Once such a database has been developed, it can be used to roll out different schemes in future, such as vocational training, health insurance, and the like. In short, while Covid-19 has exposed our unpreparedness for dealing with a health calamity, we have at hand a valuable opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art platform for social service delivery to the most vulnerable and shock-prone segments of our society.

Riaz Haq said...

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pakistan has risen to 5,038 as of 10 April. Increase of 250 new cases in the last 24 hours.
The most affected province due to COVID-19 virus is Punjab 2,425, followed by Sindh 1,318.
The National Disaster Management Authority is dispatching additional Personal Protection Equipment for doctors and health workers of 202 hospitals of Sindh.

More than 1.5 million families will get severely affected if the lockdown continues for two months in Balochistan.
The public sector hospitals of the Islamabad city are again considering extending the closure of Outdoor Patient Departments for one month due to possible high risk of novel coronavirus spread from the facilities, The Nation learnt on Saturday.
The district administration of Rawalpindi has established a 120-bed quarantine facility at Shahbaz Sharif Sports Complex located on Sixth Road.
Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Saturday said the government would bring back 4,000 Pakistanis stranded across the world following Covid-19outbreak through special flights.
Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal said Pakistan has the testing facility available for 75-days to diagnose Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic disease.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the incentives announced by the central bank for the business community would prevent massive unemployment in the county because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic as the health minister warned against easing restrictions at the current stage of the outbreak.

Riaz Haq said...

Is #India #coronavirus #lockdown working? The need to leave one’s home to go to the #bathroom and collect #water at crowded communal taps hamper #SocialDistancing. #Modi #BJP #poverty #hygiene #sanitation - The Washington Post

India’s lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus is laying bare immense social inequalities in the country’s sprawling cities. The plight of migrant laborers has been especially alarming. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement of a 21-day lockdown on March 24, migrant laborers have scrambled to return to their villages of origin in search of food and shelter, in many cases on foot.

Residents of India’s urban slums represent another population whose vulnerabilities have intensified during the lockdown. According to India’s 2011 census, 65 million people, or 17 percent of the country’s urban population, live in slum settlements. Broadly, these are low-income neighborhoods, with dense and unplanned housing, often weak or absent formal property rights, and marginalized access to basic public services, including public health systems. Most residents work in a vast, largely unregulated informal economy and depend on daily wages to support their families.

How India plans to put 1.3 billion people on a coronavirus lockdown

What does social distancing — and the suspension of movement — mean for residents of India’s slum settlements? Here are some of the central challenges facing this segment of India’s population.


India’s slum settlements are highly congested spaces, leaving little or no room among neighbors. Take, for example, Kathputli Nagar, a settlement in central Jaipur. About 4,000 people live in Kathputli Nagar, on a small, 28,000-square-meter plot of land. One- and two-room jhuggies (shanties) are tightly packed and linked by narrow alleyways that allow just a few people to stand shoulder to shoulder.

Slum settlements often house residents who have migrated from various states in India. The community leader in Jaipur, Rajasthan quoted above pointed out that his settlement has about 5,000 residents, most of whom have migrated from villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. He noted that many returned to their villages after the announcement of the lockdown, joining other vulnerable migrants in India who have struggled to return to their villages of origin in the past few weeks.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan awaits clinical trials for #COVID19 treatment. #Scientists at #Karachi’s Dow University of Health Sciences say they have prepared potential treatment with plasma obtained from recovered patients of #coronavirus

Pakistani scientists are awaiting approval to start clinical trials for a treatment they claim can cure coronavirus.

A research team from Dow University of Medical Sciences, the country’s leading health institution, has devised intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) with plasma obtained from the blood of patients recovered from coronavirus, according to a statement.

The plasma teeming with anti-bodies was donated by patients after recovering from the illness.

Lab tests and animal trials were successful. The next step is to initiate clinical trials.

"This is a very important breakthrough in the war against COVID-19," professor Shaukat Ali, the head of the research team, told Anadolu Agency.

This way of treatment is safe, low risk and highly effective against coronavirus, Ali said.

He urged recovered coronavirus patients to donate blood as their plasma is the vital "raw material" for this treatment.

So far, over 1,000 coronavirus patients have recovered out of more than 5,000 reported cases in the country.

This method is also a type of passive immunization, he added.

Many countries across the world including Turkey, France and the U.S. are holding clinical trials for plasma therapy or transfusion to fight the novel virus.

However, the Pakistani doctor said, the treatment they have devised is safer and more effective than plasma transfusion as it does not carry the undesired component of blood like plasma proteins, potential bacterial and viral pathogens.

These treatments have globally been effectively used to curb other viral epidemics like MERS, SARS and Ebola, he said.

Scientists world over are grappling to find a cure for COVID-19 which has claimed over 114,000 lives globally after it appeared China last December.

More than 1.85 million people have been infected worldwide, while an upward of 434,000 have made a recovery, according to U.S.-based John Hopkins University.

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus tests per thousand in #India and #Pakistan

Riaz Haq said...

"BlackRock says coronavirus has weakened the #investment case for #Indian assets". #India’s #economy was already slowing when the #coronavirus pandemic hit, weakening the case for investors to buy the country’s #stocks and #bonds. #Modi #BJP #Hindutva|twitter&par=sharebar

India’s economy has come under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic at a time when growth was already slowing, said Neeraj Seth, BlackRock’s head of Asian credit.
That has weakened the case for for investors to buy the country’s stocks and bonds, he said.
“India entered the whole situation of Covid on a weaker footing ... and if anything, the lockdown and the slowdown of economy only put more pressure on the banking system,” he added.

The country’s banking sector has long been plagued with troubles such as large amounts of bad debt, which has hurt the economy. Growth in India’s economy — the third largest in Asia — slowed to 4.7% in the quarter ended December 2019. It was the weakest pace in more than six years.

With the country now in lockdown as the government attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Seth said the Indian economy could even contract in the coming quarters.

Official data in India showed total confirmed cases of Covid-19 standing at 10,363 as of Tuesday morning, with 339 deaths. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday extended the coronavirus lockdown until May 3. The initial 21-day nationwide restrictions were supposed to have been lifted today.

Slower economic growth means that company earnings will be hurt, and that would hit the prices of stocks and certain bonds, said Seth, adding that BlackRock has been “cautious” on Indian credit at the “lower end” of the ratings spectrum.

But with India’s central bank — the Reserve Bank of India or RBI — expected to cut interest rates further, fixed income investments could benefit, he said.

“So overall, the case for fixed income, probably positive because we do expect the RBI to cut rate and the direction of monetary policy is still towards easing; the case for Indian credit, a little bit more nuanced, a bit more mixed depending on quality ... and also case for equities also remain mixed here,” said Seth.

Riaz Haq said...

The #coronavirus is empowering Islamophobes — but exposing the idiocy of Islamophobia. #Hindutva claim the pandemic is a conspiracy by #Muslims to infect and poison #Hindus. by @mehdirhasan

IF ANTI-SEMITISM is the world’s oldest hatred, perhaps Islamophobia is the world’s weirdest.
How else to explain the fact that a pandemic of global and historic proportions, a novel coronavirus that is infecting people in almost every country and territory on Earth, has been weaponized by the far right to attack … Islam and Muslims?

Take India, where the spread of the virus has been dubbed a “corona jihad” by supporters of the far-right BJP government; they claim the pandemic is a conspiracy by Muslims to infect and poison Hindus. The government itself has blamed around a third of India’s confirmed Covid-19 cases on a gathering held in Delhi by a conservative Muslim missionary group called the Tablighi Jamaat; one BJP minister called it a “Talibani crime.” As The Guardian reports, “Muslims have now seen their businesses across India boycotted, volunteers distributing rations called ‘coronavirus terrorists’, and others accused of spitting in food and infecting water supplies with the virus. Posters have appeared barring Muslims from entering certain neighbourhoods in states as far apart as Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh.” There have even been reports of Indian Muslims being attacked, beaten, and lynched.

Did members of the Tablighi Jamaat behave recklessly? Yes. Do all of India’s 200 million Muslims bear responsibility for their behavior? No. “Virtually overnight,” wrote investigative journalist Rana Ayyub in the Washington Post, “Muslims became the sole culprits responsible for the spread of the coronavirus in India.”

But it isn’t just Hindu nationalist politicians or mobs. The country’s respectable press have joined in too. The left-leaning newspaper The Hindu published a cartoon showing the world being held hostage by the coronavirus — with the virus itself depicted wearing clothing associated with Muslims. (The paper later apologized for its “completely unintentional” decision to link the crisis to Muslim terrorists, and replaced it with a more neutral image.)

Riaz Haq said...

BBC News - #Coronavirus: The children struggling to survive #India's #lockdown. Tens of thousands are calling helplines daily while thousands are going to bed hungry as the country shuts down to battle the pandemic. #Modi #BJP #poverty #hunger

The sudden imposition of a 21-day lockdown in India to stop the spread of the coronavirus has thrown the lives of millions of children into chaos.

Tens of thousands are calling helplines daily while thousands are going to bed hungry as the country shuts down to battle the pandemic.

With 472 million children, India has the largest child population in the world and campaigners say the lockdown has impacted around 40 million children from poor families.

These include those working in farms and fields in rural areas, as well as children who work as ragpickers in cities or sell balloons, pens and other knick-knacks at traffic lights.

Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a Delhi-based charity that works with child labourers and street children, says the worst affected are the millions of homeless children who live in cities - on streets, under flyovers, or in narrow lanes and bylanes.

"During the lockdown everyone has been told to stay home. But what about the street children? Where do they go?" he asks.

According to one estimate, Delhi has more than 70,000 street children. But Mr Gupta says that number is really much higher.

And these children, he says, are usually very independent.

"They look for their own means of survival. This is the first time they need assistance.

"But they are not in the system and they are not easy to reach out to, especially in the present circumstances. Our charity workers cannot move around unless they have curfew passes," he says.

And passes are hard to obtain, because charities like Chetna are not considered essential services.

So, Mr Gupta says, they have been using innovative ways to keep in touch with the children.

"Many of these children have mobile phones, and because they generally stay in groups, we send them messages or TikTok videos about how to keep safe and what precautions they must take."

In return, he's also been receiving video messages from the children, some of which he's forwarded to me. They give a sense of the dread and uncertainty that has taken hold of their lives.

There are testimonies from worried children talking about their parents losing their jobs, wondering how they will pay the rent now or where would they find the money to buy rations?

Then, there are videos from children who have to fend for themselves.

Riaz Haq said...

"Pakistan with a population of 220 million, so far the best stimulus package we can afford is $8 billion," Khan said in the video, adding that highly indebted countries lack fiscal space to spend on health and social support.

8 billion/ 220 million = $36.36 per person


India announced on Thursday a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security measures, offering relief to millions of poor people hit by a nationwide lockdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

22.6 billion/ 1,300 million = $17.38 per person

Riaz Haq said...

#WHO oversees research to develop #coronavirus treatment in #Pakistan. Getz Pharma has joined hands with the University of Health Sciences in Lahore to support research that include clinical trials of #hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug. #COVID19

KARACHI: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is supervising a research about fast-track development of Covid-19 treatment in Pakistan which would help ascertain the effectiveness of anti-Malaria drugs while treating the coronavirus patients, officials and industry sources said on Wednesday.

The development emerged after Getz Pharma — Pakistan’s only WHO-approved manufacturing facility — joined hands with the University of Health Sciences in Lahore to support research projects that could include clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug shown to be effective against the coronavirus, pushing the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval of the product.

“Under this initiative, we are supporting the University of Health Sciences, Lahore, for research that includes clinical trials of the drug,” Khalid Mahmood, Managing Director and CEO of Getz Pharma, told Dawn. “The virus is mutating as it moves from one population. There is a need to examine the coronavirus in Pakistan more. This initiative would help on all these lines and lead to better results and other initatives,” he said.

The pharmaceutical company, meanwhile, donated 15,000 testing kits as well as 1.9 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to the Sindh government. A statement issued by the company said that it had also donated 1,500 units of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and healthcare workers, which had been dispatched to more than 50 hospitals, isolation wards, quarantine centers and clinics in Sindh, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah and Larkana.

Meanwhile, adviser to the Sindh chief minister Barrister Murtaza Wahab praised the pharmaceutical company for its supplies to the provincial government, which has showed its serious frustration for not being able to import testing kits as the federal government refused to allow cargo flights for this purpose.

“Getz Pharma has donated 15,000 rapid anti-body testing kits, about 1.9 million hydroxychloroquine tablets & 1,500 personal protective equipment to #SindhGovt. On behalf of the Govt & people of Sindh, my heartfelt appreciation & gratitude to the management of Getz Pharma. Thank you,” he tweeted.

Mr Mahmood of Getz Pharma also lauded the recent efforts of the scientists at the Dow University of Health Sciences for preparing an immunoglobulin that could effectively help treat the Covid-19 patients.

Riaz Haq said...

Are #COVID19 deaths in #Pakistan under-reported? "There's no scientific evidence to support this theory that more Covid-19 patients are dying [now]," says Dr Amir Raza, ex medical superintendent of Trauma Centre at the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital #Karachi

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Wednesday expressed the fear that the actual number of deaths from the coronavirus in the province is probably much higher than what is currently being reported.

Shah said his suspicion was that many infections are simply going undetected. "Known deaths, where the patient tests positive and they die, are so far 41 in Sindh. However, you may have also seen reports about dead bodies being brought to hospitals, which experts say cannot be tested for the coronavirus," he told a press conference.

He may have been alluding to reports like that published in the daily The News, which cited claims that more than 300 patients who were either dead on arrival (DOA) or extremely sick with “pneumonia-like symptoms” and died within hours of their arrival were brought to various public and private hospitals in Karachi during the past 15 days.

Dr Amir Raza, former deputy medical superintendent of the Trauma Centre at the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi, says there may be a simpler explanation to the rise in reported deaths at hospitals.

"The fact of the matter is that the city’s private hospitals are not entertaining patients; the primary healthcare apparatus, that is the smaller private clinics in neighbourhoods, is shut. So every person, if they feel sick for any reason, would either rush to JPMC [Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre], Civil Hospital or Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. Hence, the patient volume has increased and so has the death toll at these facilities," he said.

He noted that a similar phenomenon is observed during Eid holidays, when the volume of patients increases manifold at these three hospitals because private clinics and healthcare facilities are closed or operating at low capacity.

"There is no scientific evidence to support this theory that more Covid-19 patients are dying [now]," he told Dawn.

Also read: Is TB vaccine the reason behind Covid-19's less deadly effect in Pakistan? Experts are finding out

Edhi foundation sees increase in deaths
For its part, Edhi Foundation, the city's most noted social welfare organisation, has seen an "unusual increase" in deaths in Karachi during the last two weeks, the charity's head told, adding that a proper medical investigation should be carried out to ascertain the cause behind these deaths amid the coronavirus contagion in the metropolis.

Faisal Edhi said they shifted a total of 387 bodies from different areas and hospitals for burial at various graveyards between April 1 and April 13 as compared to 230 during the same period last year.

"There is an increase of 60-70 per cent deaths this year in such a short period of time," Edhi said, adding, however, that they were not in a position to pinpoint the exact cause of the deaths.

He revealed that most of the deceased persons attended to by the Edhi Foundation were of an older age and faced a variety of health complications.

On the suspicion that some of these deaths may have been due to Covid-19, Edhi said their volunteers were following the advised procedures for transporting and burying such bodies to avoid being infected.

Why the jump in numbers?
Edhi pointed out that hospitals' OPDs were closed and people were facing difficulties in getting treatment or reaching the health facilities on time due to shortage of transport services because of lockdown measures imposed by the provincial government to prevent the spread of the virus.

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus cases in #SouthAsia. Notice the slope of the curves, particularly the steep slope in #India relative to #Pakistan and others. #COVID19

Riaz Haq said...

#Coronavirus cases in #SouthAsia. Notice the slope of the curves, particularly the steep slope in #India relative to #Pakistan and others. #COVID19

Riaz Haq said...

Indus Hospital in #Karachi has tripled #testingCOVID19 capacity to 750 #coronavirus tests/day with the help of National Institute of #Virology at Dr. Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research (PCMD) at Karachi University. #Pakistan #COVID19

The National Institute of Virology has provided four Real-Time PCR (Polymerase Chain Reactions) machines and qualified virology experts to the hospital so that the working burden of diagnosis could be handled easily. The provision of these PCRs has increased the testing capacity from 800 to 2,400 daily.

The announcement came on Saturday after the meeting of virology experts held at the National Institute of Virology. The meeting was also attended by Prof Dr M Iqbal Choudhary, Director of International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), University of Karachi, Dr Muhammad Rashid, senior research officer of the institute of virology, Dr. Ammar Ather and other scientists.
“The hospital, which is working in collaboration with the Government of Sindh, was facing immense working-load in the process of diagnosis due to increasing number of coronavirus cases in Sindh”, said Prof Chaudhary in a statement.

At the moment, the major challenge in Pakistan is of very limited diagnostic capabilities, he said, adding that the WHO has declared the timely diagnosis of the disease as the major step in stopping the spread of COVID-19, as undetected infected individuals are the biggest source of infecting others.

Talking about the significance of this collaboration between a hospital and research facility, Prof Chaudhary said that “Indus Hospital is currently the “epicenter” of all COVID-19 related activities in Sindh, which is the worst-hit province of Pakistan with 65 per cent confirmed cases, thus we think it is an excellent example of a university-based research center helping the national health care system at the time of national health emergency”.

The experts in the meeting concluded that taking necessary precautions is the only way to protect ourselves from the contagious virus. Virology expert, Dr. Muhammad Rashid said people must avoid public gatherings. He said that large grocery stores and shopping malls should not be used for shopping, open-street shops, where people are not gathered in large numbers are better options for buying groceries. He added that children should not be allowed to go outside as these holidays were announced in case of an emergency, not for a picnic.

Riaz Haq said...

Well done, #Pakistan! Pak has tested more than peers. #COVID19 transmission has slowed down. Back-of-the-envelope estimates had projected 20,000 to 25,000 (10,000 actual) positive cases by mid-April and possibly 400+ deaths (201 actual) . #coronavirus

How well have we managed the ongoing coronavirus crisis?

Let’s go back a few weeks. The zaireen (pilgrims) from Taftan were not quarantined properly at the border. The government was a little too late in calling off the Raiwind congregation. And there was hardly any coordination between the federal and provincial governments. There were no appropriate quarantine facilities and hardly any testing capacity for Covid-19. There was not even a count of available ventilators in the country. Crude estimates suggested that we had too few. There was no awareness in the public about the necessary precautionary measures, while masks and sanitisers vanished from the market overnight. Back-of-the-envelope estimates projected 20,000 to 25,000 positive cases by mid-April and possibly 400+ deaths.
But gradually, things started to change. Sindh took the lead in enforcing a lockdown, but other provinces followed suit. Transmission slowed down, as new quarantine facilities were set up, new ventilators were imported, and the old ones were repaired free of cost by dedicated engineers. Based on existing projections, the country now has enough ventilators till the first week of June. The testing capacity over the last few weeks has also been ramped up considerably and although it is nowhere close to America or Europe’s, the number of tests per 1,000 people in Pakistan are far more than India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and a little more than half of Japan. Moreover, the existing testing capacity is targeted prudently at those with symptoms, the ones they have been in contact with or travelers from other countries. At least three provinces — Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh — are running pilots on pooled testing approach and are expected to increase their testing capacity by four to six times. Health and district administration officials have been doing meticulous contact tracing to identify people at risk. And most importantly, all provincial and federal agencies have come together to coordinate their efforts through the single National Command and Operations Center (NCOC).
TV advertisements, newspapers, websites and even cellphone ringers all carry awareness messages. The message about 20-second hand washing has spread far and wide. Sanitisers have become a common sight, at least in urban areas, and many can be seen wearing masks. The government has also done an excellent job in reporting statistics. The K-P health minister for instance has been sharing daily disease heatmaps through Twitter. The Digital Pakistan team has developed a Covid-19 dashboard, offering updates on demographic and geographic distribution of cases and tests.

On the economic front, Pakistan was quick to access IMF’s rapid financing facility and seek a debt moratorium. Federal and provincial relief packages have been announced. Interest rate has been brought down by 425 basis points, businesses are being offered low-cost loans to ensure liquidity and more importantly, the federal government is trying to use this opportunity to re-negotiate the IPP agreements. Punjab has announced tax breaks for businesses, while K-P has announced a coping strategy to dilute the impact of the crisis.

Within the private sector, scores of educational institutions have seamlessly transitioned to e-learning virtually overnight. The academics, journalists and analysts have come up with excellent suggestions to mitigate the crisis, while philanthropic organizations like Akhuwat are working diligently to help those in need.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #Army to help government implement ‘test, trace and quarantine’ strategy. The #ttquran TTQ strategy has been formulated to keep the spread of the #COVID19 disease in check while different sectors open up. #Smartlockdown

The army would aid civilian agencies in the implementation of the ‘Test, Trace and Quarantine’ (TTQ) strategy for containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was on Wednesday briefed about the TTQ strategy during his visit to the National Command and Operation Centre — the nerve-centre for the national decision-making in the fight against novel coronavirus.

TTQ is “aimed at identifying disease spread, focused clusters/hotspots to enable targeted lockdowns and need-driven resource optimisation at all levels,” a press statement issued by ISPR on Gen Bajwa’s visit to NCOC said.

The strategy is being adopted as the country gradually moves towards ‘smart’ lockdown under which a hybrid model is being followed that entails continued social distancing, limited opening up of economy, targeted isolation of vulnerable communities, and continuous capacity-building of health sector.

The easing of the lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 14.

The TTQ strategy has been formulated to keep the spread of the disease in check while different sectors open up.

The TTQ strategy involves ramping up of testing, rapidly tracing the contacts of confirmed positive cases, and effective quarantining of positive and suspected cases. This is highly labour-intensive and requires use of technology, but is considered as a better option than shutting down the economy.

An official said TTQ would now drive the national Covid-19 strategy. The military would assist the civilian agencies with their expertise and technical prowess.

A pilot project of TTQ is currently under way and its full-scale application is expected in the next few days.

“Pakistan Army in collaboration with other national institutions should take all possible measures to bring comfort to the nation in these challenging times particularly during Ramazan,” Gen Bajwa was quoted as having said.

The army chief complimented the civil-military coordination at NCOC. He “emphasised the need for continued stratified risk assessment, managing trinity of health crisis, economic slide and psycho-social impact through efficient resource management,” the ISPR said.

One of the main objectives of NCOC, besides recommending policies backed by data to the government, was to promote harmony among the provinces and various national institutions, especially the civilian-military coordination.

Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar, who chairs NCOC, and the national coordinator Lt Gen Hamooduz Zaman have together driven the campaign while promoting cooperation among various component. “The tone and tenor of both of them is conciliatory, giving message of unity, consensus and harmony. Mr Umar has steered the whole effort with great political acumen and will while Gen Hamooduz Zaman has amplified the COAS vision of strengthening institutions and capacity building,” an official, who has been part of the NCOC proceedings, said.

Riaz Haq said...

A #digital marketer for a company 50-person office in #Karachi, #Pakistan returned to find desks 12 ft apart instead of 6 ft. “We wear masks, and each of us has sanitizer,” he says. #coronavirus #smartlockdownbyik #SocialDistancing via @BloombergQuint

Things are about to get weird at work. In many places where offices have reopened, businesses haven’t returned to business as usual. We spoke to managers and employees around the world about the aspects of pandemic work culture that are here to stay—and those that aren’t.

The Socially Distanced Desk Majid Fareed is a digital marketer for a clothing company with a 50-person office in Karachi, Pakistan. After lockdown, he returned to find the desks 12 feet apart instead of 6. “We wear masks, and each of us has sanitizer,” Fareed says. He goes in three days a week, and on those days the colleagues on either side of him work from home. For meetings, his supervisor stan

Goodbye, Groomed Work Identity “On almost every call, something unexpected happens, like a kid walks in,” says Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer of consultancy Accenture Plc. “We’re seeing each other as real people. I think it’s really powerful and has profound workforce implications.” Homebodies “None of our customers want to see us!” says Ravin Gandhi, CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, which

Meetings in Gallery View A weekly Beijing team meeting for Preferred Hotel Group Inc. used to take place in a conference room. “Now three people are in the office and two are at home, and each sits at her own desk,” says Caroline Klein, executive vice president of corporate communications. One unexpected benefit: “When you’re sitting next to someone in a conference room, you’re not necessarily see

We’re All in This Together “People are volunteering to do work outside of their jobs,” says Denise Broady, chief operating officer at WorkForce Software LLC, where vice presidents and above have agreed to delay their bonuses by five months so lower-level employees can receive full bonuses. “It’s having such a positive impact on the workforce—people are thinking about the collective whole, not just

The Death of the Open Office “Before Covid-19, everyone was pushing density,” says Michael Silver, chairman of commercial real estate firm Vestian. “To get more density, they were ‘hoteling’ or ‘hot desking’ ”—where employees don’t have assigned seats. “Now everyone wants to be very careful about the air they breathe,” he says. “No one wants to be in an open office or coworking environment.”

But You’ll Probably Still Commute “I hear a lot of companies saying, ‘Oh, this gave us a chance to experiment with remote work,’ ” says Barbara Larson, a management professor at Northeastern University. “I’m thinking, Oh God, please don’t make any conclusions based on these months,” when many people stuck at home had jobs unsuited to remote work. Her prediction: Full-time remote workers will increase to almost 10%, about twice the pre-pandemic rate, and part-timers will jump to 30%, from 24%.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan using #intelligence services to track #coronavirus cases. PM #ImranKhan says Inter-Services Intelligence - 'originally used against terrorism' - is now fighting the #COVID19 pandemic.@AJENews

Pakistan is using a contact tracing system - developed by its intelligence services to combat terrorism - to fight the coronavirus, the country's prime minister has said, as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in the South Asian country.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) service is supporting the government in tracing and tracking people who may have been in contact in with those who test positive for the virus.

"The ISI has given us a great system for track and trace," said Pakistani PM Imran Khan on a live telecast of a telethon on Thursday. "It was originally used against terrorism, but now it is has come in useful against coronavirus."

International rights groups such as Amnesty International have repeatedly accused the ISI of using its surveillance programmes to abduct rights activists alongside legitimate security targets.

Having an effective "track and trace" system would enable the country to continue to reopen businesses, Khan said.

"Track and trace is the best way [to combat the virus] and ... this is the only way if you want to restart your businesses."

Cases of the coronavirus in Pakistan have spiked this week, hitting at least 11,115 cases, with 237 fatalities and more than 2,527 patients having recovered, government data shows.

The Pakistani government began to ease its lockdown last week, opening up more than a dozen sectors of the economy in order to stave off spiralling unemployment.

The government has also launched an $8bn economic stimulus package, including funds for low-income families to be disbursed through $75 grants. So far, it has disbursed roughly $390m in funds to more than 5.2 million people.

The telethon on Thursday was meant to help fund the government's welfare programme for low-income families, gathering more than $3.4m in contributions from individuals and organisations.

Riaz Haq said...

#US Sec of State Mike Pompeo recommends to #Trump to continue funding WHO programs to fight #polio and #coronavirus in seven countries: #Afghanistan, #Egypt, #Libya, #Pakistan, #Sudan, #Syria and #Turkey.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recommended that the U.S. keep funding World Health Organization programs to fight polio and coronavirus in seven countries, a recognition that the group provides key services in some areas despite President Donald Trump's criticism.

State Department officials informed the National Security Council that the WHO is central to the fight against COVID-19 or polio in seven countries: Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and Turkey, said a person familiar with the discussions. Adhering to the letter of Trump's order from last week to halt all U.S. funding to WHO for a 60- to 90-day review would therefore be unworkable.

Riaz Haq said...

#COVID19: #Pakistan’s flag displayed at #Switzerland’s Matterhorn in solidarity. Flags of other countries including the #UnitedStates, #Canada, #Nepal and #Russia have been projected on the mountain as well. #coronavirus

As the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan soared past 12,700, a mountain, none other than the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, was lit up with the country’s flag in a bid to express solidarity and support amid the pandemic.

Every night, the popular mountain is lit up with projections of images, including flags of countries across the globe, that have been hit with the deadly disease.

On April 25, Switzerland’s Matterhorn projected Pakistan’s flag. A picture of which was shared on Twitter.

It said, “Switzerland shows solidarity with the people of Pakistan and wish them strength.”

Artist Gerry Hofstetter started this initiative last month. His first illumination on the mountain was that of the Swiss flag, reported CNN.

Flags of other countries including the United States, Canada, Nepal and Russia have been projected on the mountain as well.
Words such as ‘hope’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘stay home’ have also been displayed.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's #coronavirus-idled workers hired to plant billions of trees across the country to deal with #climatechange threats. Officials say move will create over 60,000 jobs as gov't aims to help those who lost jobs due to #Covid_19 #lockdown. @AJENews

When construction worker Abdul Rahman lost his job to Pakistan's coronavirus lockdown, his choices looked stark - resort to begging on the streets or let his family go hungry.

But the government has now given him a better option: Join tens of thousands of other out-of-work labourers in planting billions of trees across the country to deal with climate change threats.

Since Pakistan locked down on March 23 to try to stem the spread of COVID-19, unemployed day labourers have been given new jobs as "jungle workers", planting saplings as part of the country's 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme.

Such "green stimulus" efforts are an example of how funds that aim to help families and keep the economy running during pandemic shutdowns could also help nations prepare for the next big threat: climate change.

"Due to coronavirus, all the cities have shut down and there is no work. Most of us daily wagers couldn't earn a living," Rahman, a resident of Rawalpindi district in Punjab province, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He now makes 500 rupees ($3) a day planting trees - about half of what he might have made on a good day, but enough to get by.

"All of us now have a way of earning daily wages again to feed our families," he said.

The ambitious five-year tree-planting programme, which Prime Minister Imran Khan launched in 2018, aims to counter rising temperatures, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather conditions in the country that scientists link to climate change.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2020, issued by think-tank Germanwatch, ranked Pakistan fifth on a list of countries most affected by planetary heating over the last 20 years - even though the South Asian nation contributes only a fraction of global greenhouse gases.

As the coronavirus pandemic struck Pakistan, the 10 Billion Trees campaign was initially halted as part of social distancing orders put in place to slow the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 14,880 people in Pakistan, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

But earlier this month, the prime minister granted an exemption to allow the forestry agency to restart the programme and create more than 63,600 jobs, according to government officials.

A recent assessment by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics found that, due to the lockdown, up to 19 million people could be laid off, almost 70 perfect of them in the Punjab province.

Abdul Muqeet Khan, chief conservator of forests for Rawalpindi district, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the planting project is in "full swing".

Riaz Haq said...

The Latest: #Pakistan says 480 #healthcare workers test positive for #coronavirus. There are more than 220,000 doctors and about 144,000 nurses in Pakistan. #COVID19

A top health official in Pakistan says as many as 480 health workers have tested positive for coronavirus across the country.
"The safety of our front-line health workers is a matter of grave concern for us," said Zafar Mirza, who advises prime minister on health issues, at the military-backed National Command and Operations Centre in Islamabad.
The National Command and Operations Centre was set up by the government recently amid increasing cases of coronavirus, which stands at 15,289 recorded cases and 335 deaths.
Mirza says they have supplied the required personal protection equipment to doctors and other paramedical staff handling cases of coronavirus at government hospitals.
There are more than 220,000 doctors and about 144,000 nurses in Pakistan, but Mirza said they will provide personal protection equipment to only those who are handling patients of coronavirus. He says any health worker who dies because of handling patients of coronavirus will be given the status of "martyr" apart from financially assisting their families.
About 8,500 people are tested a day in a country of 220 million.

Riaz Haq said...

Is COVID-19 Pakistan’s Black Swan Event for Digital Payments?
MAY 1, 2020
Tariq Malik and Alan Gelb

As shown by the technical underpinnings of its Ehsaas emergency program, Pakistan has all of the necessary building blocks to roll out its digital payments system and expand access to mobile money. It should seize the opportunity.

The Ehsaas Emergency Cash program was launched at the end of March to distribute funds to 12 million families (an estimated 67 million people) whose livelihood has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic or its aftermath. Each eligible family is entitled to 12,000 Pakistani rupees (PKR), equivalent to $72.07. As of the end of April, 6.6 million beneficiary families representing some 37 million people had already received the payment, for a total of PKR 79.2 billion ($476 million). Cash can be picked up at 17,000 distribution centers set up nationwide, after biometric authentication against the database of NADRA (the National Database and Registration Authority), which houses the digital identity of 122 million citizens. The program has been an important way to get much-needed cash to those affected, but it also presents an opportunity to advance digital payments in a way that benefits the poor—but only if stakeholders seize the


Targeting involves screening against a range of databases linked to the ID number, along the lines of the process used in 2012 to identify potential taxpayers. These include the BISP database; the NSER (National Economic and Social Registry) survey conducted in 2010; and analytics on databases covering immigration (travel patterns), civil and public servant payrolls, utility bills, telecommunications subscriptions, vehicle registration and other areas. NADRA also maintains access to a registry detailing relationships between identified individuals, with each family assigned a unique family ID number. Of a total of 146 million SMS requests for assistance, it was reported that the number of unique claimants was 48 million. Over 2 million of the 48 million were found to be invalid, while almost a million more were found to be ineligible due to having government jobs and high scores on the poverty index. The remainder could be sorted into the three beneficiary categories of the program: Female recipients who score below 16 on a 100-point means test (already part of the BISP program); heads of families that score between 16 and 32 (newly added by Ehsaas); and those scoring above this level, who are screened electronically and on the ground by commissioners at the district level. Further screening rejected nearly 14 million of the category 3 applicants, leaving the rest to be checked at the provincial level.


It is time to expand this sector by removing the barriers. Some positive steps have been taken. The federal government has approved the waiver of 24 percent advance income tax on the commissions of branchless banking retailers. This is a good start, but the provincial governments need to waive the general sales tax of 14-16 percent on commissions to accelerate incentives to expand access to digital money. As other governments have concluded, an investment in digital payments is an investment for the poor. With a fixed line penetration rate of less than 20 percent, mobile is already the preferred platform for half of the country’s 30 million internet users.

The Ehsaas Emergency Cash program offers an opportunity to incorporate mobile payments technology into the implementation of social protection. Could it be the Black Swan event for Pakistan to expand its mobile money market? The question demands the attention of all stakeholders—government, NADRA, BISP, the banks, mobile operators, and their regulators. It would be a pity if Pakistan were to waste this creative moment.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan developing key medical equipment to fight #COVID-19: #ventilators, #sanitizers, #PPE suits, face #masks, thermal cameras, etc. #coronavirus

Pakistan is ramping up local production capacity of essential medical supplies to become secure and self-sufficient in the fight against coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases surged past 18,000.

Visiting the exhibition of medical products at the COMSTECH centre, Prime Minister Imran Khan praised the efforts of Pakistani engineers and developers who are helping on three fronts: supporting the local economy, reducing costs and helping contain COVID-19 spread.

Ministry of Science & Technology in collaboration with Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) and others organised the exhibition to showcase the country’s potential. The exhibition titled ‘Changing Calamity into Opportunity’ featured locally produced masks, personal protective equipment (PPEs), sanitisers, disinfectants, and prototypes of ventilators by public and private organisations.

The COVID-19 crisis has provided Pakistan an opportunity to locally manufacture ventilators and other key medical equipment amid the global shortage, PM Imran remarked. The government’s current focus is knowledge economy, research and development (R&D), education, science and technology, the premier said.

Pakistani engineers in public and private sectors are tirelessly working to contribute in the national fight against coronavirus outbreak, said Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Hussain. Pakistan is currently producing PPEs, masks, sanitisers and disinfectants in large numbers. “The textile sector of Faisalabad is actively engaged in producing protective gear for health workers.” The local production may soon exceed local demand in which case the gear can be exported, he said. Fawad urged the government to expand the interaction between civil and military R&D terming it a critical measure in response to COVID-19 pandemic.

PEC officials received at least 48 proposals for locally developed mechanical ventilators of which 13 were accepted. “Currently seven types of ventilators are in final phase of approval” which would be ready within weeks at one-third of the cost of imported ventilators. The approved list includes Corvent by Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), PakVent-1 by DESTO, NED ventilator, VenteLight by PAF, Nuvent by NUTECH, Dignous by DIC and Umbilizer.

Pakistan’s premier defence research organisation, Defence Science and Technology Organization (DESTO), has developed its own version of N95 mask that meets global standards. The locally produced
N95 would cost Rs90 as compared to the imported one priced at Rs1100, he said. National University of Science and Technology (NUST) is currently working on COVID-19 testing kit and has developed disinfectant drones. For the first time, Pakistani scientists are collaborating with global health organisations to speed up COVID vaccine process.

Ministry of Defence helping in fight against COVID-19
Minister of Defence Production Zobaida Jalal also stepped up to the COVID challenge. In early April, the engineers at the ministry’s NRTC (National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation) repaired over 171 ventilators free of cost to cope with the shortage of equipment.

She said her ministry has now developed the capability to produce around 300,000 — 400,000 litres of sanitisers, 35,000 high quality masks and 400-500 protective suits per day. POF had so far supplied around 200,000 masks and 350 PPE suits to NDMA, while another 20,000 suits were under preparation.

NRTC has also developed thermal cameras, walk through gates and VG70 ventilators and would soon begin the distribution. The minister urged for active collaboration between ministries to effectively combat COVID-19 pandemic.

Riaz Haq said...

A sweeping 81% satisfied with Federal Govt performance with respect to #COVIDー19

@GallupPak Corona Perception Tracker

These are very unusual numbers ! But not without parallels from around the world

Crisis brings good in govt and ppls expectations set changes !

Riaz Haq said...

With no families allowed, strangers shoulder coffins for #Pakistan’s #COVID19 dead. Rescue 1122 says it has buried 172 suspected coronavirus victims in #Punjab.

Dr. Hafiz Sanaullah had only known his patient for a week. Yet, the two formed a strong bond. On most evenings, in an isolation ward for coronavirus patients in Pakistan’s northern Shangla district, the two men would sit together and talk for hours.
Muhammad Zar, a professional cook, would shares stories of his childhood, his home, and, if he was in the mood, his favorite recipes. The young doctor would regale the father of five with details of his day. Sometimes, Dr. Sanaullah would bring home-cooked meals for his patient to critique.
“That is how we would pass time,” the doctor told Arab News, over the phone, “It was a short, but a lovely relationship.”
On April 7, Zar succumbed to the deadly disease. At 5 a.m., when the doctor arrived at the hospital, Zar’s lifeless body lay in front of him.
At that point, Dr. Sanaullah knew that he would have to go above and beyond for his 65-year-old patient in the absence of Zar’s family, who were confined to their homes since the day he tested positive.

“It was my duty to give my friend a proper and dignified funeral,” he said. “Despite the risk.”
In the next hour, the physician washed the body and carefully wrapped it in a plastic bag, following the World Health Organization’s guidelines on burials for Covid-19 victims.
Only a handful of men who worked at the hospital were in attendance as the doctor offered funeral prayers.
The body was then taken to Zar’s village for a second funeral, where health officials warned people on the loud speaker against crowding the streets or coming near the body bag.
Zar’s 21-year-old son Nazeer Ahmed stood at a distance and watched. He could not touch or kiss his father for the last time.
“My sisters didn’t even attend the funeral because the whole area had been cordoned off,” Ahmed told Arab News. “We barely got to see his face. What will we tell our father when we meet him on the day of judgment?”
After the burial, district administration officials burned down everything Zar had touched, including his walking stick, wallet, blanket and even his identity card.
“We have nothing left of him,” Ahmed said, his voice choking on the phone, “This is such a cruel disease.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan, funeral rituals and traditions have quickly and dramatically changed.
As per Pakistan’s National Institute of Health guidelines, only trained personnel can handle the remains of a confirmed case. When preparing for a burial, the body should be placed in a plastic bag and those handling the body should be wearing personal protection equipment (PPE), including disposable gloves, overalls, face mask and a plastic apron.
All belongings of the patient should either be disinfected or burned.

Riaz Haq said...

World Bank hails #Pakistan’s cash for poor. “Cash transfers will be instrumental in mitigating the impact of the upcoming recession by ensuring that consumption by the poorest and vulnerable contributes to the local economies" #EhsasProgram #coronavirus

The World Bank on Tuesday hailed Pakistan’s cash transfer emergency programme, saying it would be instrumental in mitigating the impact on the economy due to novel coronavirus.“Cash transfers will be instrumental in mitigating the impact of the upcoming recession by ensuring that consumption by the poorest and vulnerable contributes to the local economies,” the World Bank said in an article published on its website.

It suggested if the fiscal space allowed to the government, the emergency cash transfers should be considered as an optimal option to rejuvenate local economies.

Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced the country’s biggest ever Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme worth of Rs144 billion to disburse Rs12,000 each to 12 million beneficiaries who were stricken hard by the lockdown enforced due to coronavirus leading to worst economic impact to the country.

At a time when cash transfer programmes are the most widely used instruments to counter the socioeconomic fallout from the pandemic, the case of Pakistan provided a good insight to others, the article added. “No doubt this response was one of the best investments that a government could make in a crisis.The cash transfers provided purchasing power to people to meet their needs.
According to figures, nearly 24 per cent of Pakistan’s 210 million people are below the poverty line. The country requires a rapid response to protect its poor from becoming even worse off.

The national lockdown imposed on March 13 is a necessary pre-emptive step to contain the health emergency. But it compounds socioeconomic risks for the vulnerable who have lost their jobs or can’t access health and social programmes.

In addition, the pandemic puts women, who were already disadvantaged in the labor force, at greater risk as they carried the invisible burden of caring for the sick, elderly, and children.

One of Pakistan’s initial measures, with support from the World Bank, was to expand its national safety net institution, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), to direct additional support to its 4.5 million women beneficiaries.

The government also scaled up its flagship cash transfer program, Ehsaas Kafalat, to include 7.5 million additional vulnerable families affected by the crisis — thus increasing by 85 per cent its annual budget dedicated to cash transfers.

Pakistan’s quick action was possible because the country has invested in programmes like BISP and Ehsaas Kafalat which formed one of South Asia’s largest social safety net systems. They provide quick registration options and reliable payments through state-of-the-art biometric technology. Their online linkage to the national ID database helps prevent duplicate payments while ensuring transparency.

While these investments have achieved results, there was room for further improvement. A move towards a dynamic system for updating the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) and integration among social programme databases would help keep targeting data current and ensure a two-way flow of information.

Besides avoiding duplication of effort, a centralized and integrated social registry would also provide data for informed decisions regarding socio-economic policies and initiatives.

Along with this, the governments (federal and provincial) needed to expand the primary education and children health-related conditional cash transfers to integrate aspects of long-term human development and reduction of inter-generational poverty.

Riaz Haq said...

#ContactTracing is central to #coronavirus strategy for governments globally, including #Italy and #Germany. Alarms are being raised in #Pakistan, where a lack of transparency and #digital #privacy standards risks undermining how the public is protected

Contact tracing has been a central plank of coronavirus strategy for governments around the world, including Italy and Germany. However, alarms have been raised in Pakistan, where a lack of transparency and digital privacy standards risks undermining how the public is protected.

While Pakistan currently has no data protection laws, the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication announced a call for consultation on a draft bill earlier this month.

To lead the tracing and quarantine strategy, the government has established a new data hub at the Covid-19 national command center in Islamabad. The center will collect information from the ISI’s tracking system and share details about coronavirus cases with Pakistan’s four provincial governments, information technology institutions, and civil and military organizations.

While specific details of how the tracking system functions remain unclear, the country’s national telecommunications regulator, Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA), has confirmed that it is assisting the government by using cell tower tracking to locate the mobile phones of infected individuals and send text messages advising them to self-isolate. According to PTA, around 560,000 at-risk people have been sent “CoronaAlert” text messages to date.

In Pakistan, licensed telecom providers such as cell phone companies are required to provide customer data to government agencies for national security purposes or when directed by PTA.

The text message initiative was launched in March by the prime minister’s Digital Pakistan unit, which is led by Tania Aidrus, a former head of Google’s Next Billion Users team, which makes products with emerging markets in mind.

In an interview, Aidrus said the authorities were using “multiple data points” for contact tracing. “The aim is to expand home testing and assessment in Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands people have used the various chatbots we have launched with the help of Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp to raise awareness and allow self-assessment.”

Aidrus also said the authorities are trying to find family information about Covid-19 patients by working with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the citizen biometric data center with personal information of all 220 million Pakistani nationals.

Nadra has been subject to several major digital breaches in the past, including one incident in 2018 which saw the private data of individuals hacked and sold on Facebook and WhatsApp. Digital rights groups have called for more secure protection of the private data of Pakistani citizens. In a 2018 report on Nadra, Pakistan’s Digital Rights Foundation stated “The potential for misuse or problematic leaks here is substantial and is only exacerbated by the lack of data protection legislation in the country.”

While acknowledging the lack of data protection policies in Pakistan, Aidrus said she was “incredibly confident” about the responsible use of any public data collected during the current crisis.

However, privacy advocates warn that many countries using technology to limit the spread of Covid-19 are failing to provide adequate transparency.

“The scale and sophistication of surveillance technologies being rolled out in response to Covid-19 around the world could fundamentally threaten human rights in the future,” said Samuel Woodhams, who is tracking global Covid-19 surveillance measures for the website Top10VPN.

“Health authorities and governments should ensure they implement these initiatives with transparency, adequate sunset clauses and provide scope for public and political scrutiny. In countries that do not have well-defined personal privacy and human rights legislation, these concerns are considerably more acute.”

Riaz Haq said...

#SiliconValley's Gilead Sciences in talks with #Pharmaceutical firms in #Pakistan, #India to start #Remdesivir production to treat #coronavirus. Gilead says it will provide appropriate #technology transfers to facilitate this production. #COVID

US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences on Tuesday said that it was in talks with drug companies in Pakistan and India to start remdesivir production.

Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral drug used to treat patients with the coronavirus and was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Last month, Gilead said the drug had helped improve outcomes for patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and provided data suggesting it worked better when given earlier in the course of infection.

According to a statement on its website, Gilead Sciences "is negotiating long-term voluntary licenses with several generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to produce remdesivir for developing countries. Gilead will provide appropriate technology transfers to facilitate this production".

The statement adds that the company's goal "is to make remdesivir both accessible and affordable to governments and patients around the world" and it plans to continue the production of the drug for "Europe, Asia and the developing world through at least 2022".

'Significant, positive effect in diminishing time to recovery'
A clinical trial of the drug remdesivir in the United States showed that patients recovered about 30 per cent faster than those on a placebo, in the first proof of successful treatment against the new disease.

“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony Fauci, the top US epidemiologist who oversaw the study, told reporters on Friday.

Fauci likened the finding to the first retrovirals that worked, albeit with modest success, against HIV in the 1980s.

However, remdesivir failed in trials against the Ebola virus and a smaller study, released last week by the World Health Organisation, found limited effects among patients in Wuhan, China, where the illness was first detected in December.

Riaz Haq said...

Sapiens author Yuval Harari: "..coronavirus epidemic as the moment when a new regime of surveillance took over, especially surveillance under the skin..." #COVID #coronavirus #surveillance #privacy

The coronavirus pandemic could prove to be a watershed event in terms of enabling greater surveillance of society, the historian Yuval Noah Harari has said.

He told Hardtalk's Stephen Sackur: "People could look back in 100 years and identify the coronavirus epidemic as the moment when a new regime of surveillance took over, especially surveillance under the skin which I think is maybe the most important development of the 21st Century, is this ability to hack human beings."

Biometric data would create a system that knew human beings better than they knew themselves, he added.

Riaz Haq said...

The company ( Gilead) is also negotiating long-term voluntary licenses with several generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to produce remdesivir for developing countries. Gilead will provide appropriate technology transfers to facilitate this production. Finally, the company is in active discussions with the Medicines Patent Pool, which Gilead has partnered with for many years, to license remdesivir for developing countries.

Since January, Gilead has worked with speed, care and diligence to prepare for the possibility that the company’s investigational antiviral remdesivir may be found effective against the virus that causes COVID-19. Recent clinical trial results and the decision by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to issue an Emergency Use Authorization for remdesivir have highlighted the urgency of this work and the importance of planning for access to remdesivir globally.

Gilead’s overarching goal is to make remdesivir both accessible and affordable to governments and patients around the world, where authorized by regulatory authorities.  Given the urgent needs of patients globally, the company is pursuing the following strategy to further accelerate and maximize access to remdesivir:

Gilead is in discussions with some of the world’s leading chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies about their ability, under voluntary licenses, to produce remdesivir for Europe, Asia and the developing world through at least 2022. The company is also negotiating long-term voluntary licenses with several generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to produce remdesivir for developing countries. Gilead will provide appropriate technology transfers to facilitate this production. Finally, the company is in active discussions with the Medicines Patent Pool, which Gilead has partnered with for many years, to license remdesivir for developing countries.

To further facilitate access in developing countries during this acute health crisis, Gilead is in advanced discussions with UNICEF to utilize their extensive experience providing medicines to low- and middle-income countries during emergency and humanitarian crises to deliver remdesivir using its well-established distribution networks.

Close coordination of remdesivir manufacturing will be critical. This is why Gilead is working to build a consortium of manufacturing partners – to bring efforts together to help maximize global supply. Producing the drug requires scarce raw materials, with their own lengthy production time, and specialized manufacturing capabilities with limited global capacity. Any disruption to the supply chain impacting these scarce raw materials and other manufacturing inputs could reduce the amount of remdesivir produced and increase the time it takes to do so. 

Gilead is grateful to all its colleagues at health agencies and organizations around the world for their valuable input and insight, which have helped guide the company’s strategy.  The company looks forward to keeping its partners and the public updated as plans move forward.


Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #COVID 1166 helpline fielding 70,000 calls a day.
Call agents are trained on #coronavirus by Pakistan's National Institute of Health in #Islamabad. #PTI Government's Sehat Tahaffuz helpline is supported by #UNICEF, #WHO and Gates Foundation.

“How can I help you?” Pause. “Have you travelled out of the country recently?” Pause. “Please stay on the line. I am connecting you to a doctor.”

The young woman reassuring someone on the other end of the line is Sadia Saleem (pictured above), a call agent at the ‘Sehat Tahaffuz (meaning health protection in Urdu) 1166’ helpline centre in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Originally set up for parents and caregivers to get support and information about polio and other vaccines supported by UNICEF and partners, the helpline is now being inundated with tens of thousands of calls every day about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As part of its emergency response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has expanded the centre to help people get information on how to stay safe and connect them to a doctor when required.

“I received a phone call from a 75-year-old man this morning. He was so scared and confused because of the coronavirus situation. He asked if sunbathing could help him stay protected from the virus,” said Sadia. [It can't.] “I explained to him the symptoms of the virus and the preventive measures. He seemed relieved and thanked me.”

Sadia is one of 250 call agents currently staffing the helpline which operates in shifts, from 8:00 am to midnight every day, seven days a week.

More than 80 per cent of calls received every day at the helpline are related to basic information on COVID-19, such as symptoms.

“I’ve been working for the 1166 helpline since its inception. It’s stressful work, but I feel proud that I’m serving the people during this challenging time,” said Sadia. “In addition to receiving reliable information such as the symptoms of coronavirus and the contact information for the testing facility, I think most people feel some comfort just speaking with someone from the health system.”

“Initially, we were receiving about 1,000 calls a day. During the National Polio Immunization Campaign in February 2020 for example, people were calling to report missed children, clarify doubts about vaccines and lodge complaints when health and vaccine services were not working,” said Huma Shaukat, a Helpline Liaison Officer.

However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the amount of calls has increased dramatically, to about 50,000 to 70,000 calls a day.

The number of calls grew to such an extent that the government stepped in to assign additional resources. The Prime Minister’s Office extended support to recruit an additional 165 agents and the National Institute of Health assigned 10 more doctors to the technical team.

Dr. Rabia Basri is one of the doctors working at the helpline. “Every day I receive about 40 calls, some last as long as 20 minutes,” said Dr. Rabia. “These are difficult times for everyone. I often advise people about personal hygiene and physical distancing, and if they are having symptoms, help connect them with a hospital for the coronavirus test and further medical support.”

At the helpline centre, television screens mounted on the wall display real-time information about incoming calls and graph representing the number of calls.

All call agents undergo a comprehensive training on COVID-19 by the National Institute of Health where they learn about the virus. These trainings are then followed by sessions on the helpline technology and interpersonal communication.

“The training and commitment of the call agents are very important. Otherwise the helpline will not work,” said Huma.

Many precautions are in place to make it a healthy work environment for agents and prevent the spread of COVID-19 – including checking individual temperatures at the entrance of the helpline building, providing masks to all agents and ensuring a supply of hand sanitizer.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan firm to produce only effective drug against Covid-19

As the world grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic, there has been little good news in terms of a cure. Of all the drugs tried against Covid-19, only one – Remdesivir – has shown signs of effectiveness. Unfortunately, that too is in short supply.

In the days to come, however, Pakistan will play vital role in the effort to scale up production of the potentially lifesaving drug. The US-based pharmaceutical firm that manufactures it has entered into a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Pakistan’s Ferozsons Laboratories along with four Indian companies to manufacture and distribute Remdesivir to 127 nations to fight the pandemic. The countries are nearly all low-income and lower-middle income ones that face significant obstacles to healthcare access.

“Under the licensing agreements, the companies have a right to receive a technology transfer of the Gilead manufacturing process for Remdesivir to enable them to scale up production more quickly. The licensees also set their own prices for the generic product they produce,” Gilead Sciences, the firm that manufactures Remdesivir, said.
The company also said in a press release that the licences were royalty-free until the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of the public health emergency or a vaccine was approved.

The countries Ferozson’s Laboratories and the four Indian firms will be allowed to distribute Remdisivir to include regional ones like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka along with various others in Central and South East Asia, Africa and South America.

Gilead Sciences had earlier warned that there was only enough Remdesivir in the world for about 200,000 patients. While the drug isn’t a certain cure for Covid-19, rigorous trials have shown it can shorten a patient’s hospital stay by about four days, freeing up vital medical capacity for others suffering from the disease.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan: #COVID19 drug production to start "within weeks," says CEO of Ferozsons Ltd, which will produce the drug. Pakistan will be among the first 3 countries in the world to produce #remdesevir for domestic use & export to 127 nations. #pharmaceutical

Pakistan will soon start production of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise in treating the novel coronavirus, the country's top health official and a pharmaceutical company's chief executive announced on Friday.

Production should start "within weeks," said Osman Khalid Waheed, the chief executive of Ferozsons Laboratories Ltd, which will produce the drug. He spoke at a news conference alongside Pakistan's de facto health minister, Zafar Mirza.

"Pakistan will be among the first three countries in the world where it will not only be produced but will also be exported to the whole world," Mirza said. It will be exported to 127 countries, he said.

Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, has grabbed attention as one of the most promising treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 300,000 people.

To expand its access, Gilead said it signed non-exclusive licensing pacts with five generic drugmakers based in India and Pakistan, allowing them make and sell remdesivir for 127 countries.

"It is a commitment by us and Gilead that this medicine could be produced at minimum cost and make it most accessible," Waheed said.

Pakistan has recorded 37,218 COVID-19 cases and 803 deaths. Lockdowns to curb the disease's spread are forecast to will cause the country's economy to shrink 1% to 1.5% in 2020.

Despite a rising rate of infection, Pakistan began lifting those lockdowns last week, primarily to avert an economic meltdown.

Riaz Haq said...

After Ferozsons, #Pakistan’s AGP Ltd., a partner of Mylan NV, becomes the 2nd drug maker to sell Gilead's #COVID treatment #remdesivir, which has been shown to improve recovery of coronavirus patients, within 1 to 2 months in the Asian nation. #coronavirus

AGP plans to seek permission from the country’s drug authority to import the medicine, Chief Executive Officer Nusrat Munshi said in an interview. It has a similar arrangement for the Hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi, which it will import from Mylan. AGP is Mylan’s exclusive distributor in Pakistan.

The development comes a few weeks after remdesivir’s original creator Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. signed agreements with four generic drug manufacturers in India, including Mylan’s unit in the country, and one in Pakistan to speed development and help meet anticipated demand. A unit of Pakistan’s Ferozsons Laboratories Ltd. is currently the only licensee in the country.

The global push to develop coronavirus treatments and vaccines is accelerating as governments look for ways to ease lockdowns safely and restart economies. Moderna Inc.’s vaccine passed a crucial early safety test last week, and countries from the U.K. to China are pushing ahead to develop their own vaccines. Gilead’s drug was originally developed in 2010 to treat Ebola.

Pakistan eased its lockdown by opening shopping malls and retail shops this month and saw a massive rush of people ahead of Eid festivities. A few markets were temporarily shut for not following social distancing rules in Karachi.

“The concept of a lockdown is that it gives the country’s health-care system time to prepare,” said Munshi, adding that health-care facilities including beds haven’t been ramped up and mass testing hasn’t been conducted.

AGP has also sold about 100,000 anti-body test kits since last month to hospitals and private companies looking to test their staff as more people return to work. The company has another 100,000 kits and is considering importing more as it is seeing high demand, according to Munshi.

Riaz Haq said...

#COVID19 drugs from #India, #Pakistan, #Bangladesh: #Remdesivir, #camostat, #avipiravir, #HQC and others. Arsenal of repurposed #antivirals being brought to bear on SARS-CoV-2 to treat pneumonia, sepsis, respiratory failure, and acute respiratory distress

Dubai: An arsenal of existing antivirals are being brought to bear against SARS-CoV-2. Most of them are manufactured in South Asia — primarily India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It has emerged that COVID-19 is not an "atypical pneumonia" (lung disease). As it is, there's no therapy approved for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet has pointed out, that the spectrum of disease kicked off by COVID0-19 is “broad”.

“Among hospitalised patients with COVID-19, pneumonia, sepsis, respiratory failure, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are frequently encountered complications,” it reported.

Moreover, it states: “Activation of coagulation pathways during the immune response to infection results in overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines leading to multiorgan injury.”

Riaz Haq said...

DRAP approves first made-in-#Pakistan testing kit for #COVID19 developed by the scientists at NUST & ASAB in collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Virology #China, DZIF #Germany, #Columbia University & Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Rawalpindi.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has approved the first indigenously made testing kit for novel coronavirus, developed by the scientists at National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Attaur Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB).

The news was shared on Twitter by Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, where he congratulated the developing team.

“You people have made us proud… this will bring significant cost reduction of Covid-19 tests and will also save huge import bill,” he wrote on his official handle.

The testing kit is developed in collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Virology China, DZIF Germany, Columbia University USA and Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Rawalpindi.

These testing kits will cost one-fourth the current price for the kits used for detecting the Covid-19.

According to NUST, these assays have been developed at a time when the world is in the grip of an unprecedented pandemic novel coronavirus – and scientists and researchers are sparing no effort to ascertain remedies to this incurable disease.

According to the NUST, the assays include both conventional and real time PCR-based methods of Sybr Green and Taqman.

The testing kits have been efficiently tested on laboratory controls and patient sample.

These indigenously established assays are robust, sensitive to the target, and would soon be available at one fourth the price of imported ones.

The team comprises Associate Professor Dr Aneela Javed and Assistant Professor Dr Ali Zohaib from NUST ASAB, who have been working on establishment of these assays for diagnosis of the pandemic the country is bracing itself for.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan receives #PPE #export orders worth $100M. Orders include N95 #masks, gloves, goggles, face shields, gowns, shoes cover and bed sheets. Exports could top $500 million in the coming months as the #COVID19 #pandemic sweeps the world. #coronavirus

Pakistan has bagged export orders worth $100 million for its domestically manufactured personal protective equipment (PPE), a government official said.

Fawad Chaudhry, the minister for science and technology, said many countries are interested in Pakistani equipment, and the figure could top $500 million in the coming months.

Pakistan’s Federal Cabinet earlier this month approved exports of PPE despite complaints by doctors and healthcare workers of shortages of protective gear including face masks, gloves, and overalls.

"Now we are producing masks including N95 masks, gloves, goggles or face shields, gowns, shoes cover and bed sheets for our hospitals, and even importing to other countries," Chaudhry told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

He said Pakistan also developed a coronavirus diagnostic kit, which has been approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan. "This is a big achievement," he said, adding that the kits are entirely domestically produced, which will "help cut our import bill."

So far, Pakistan has imported and received PPE and testing kits mostly from its Chinese allies.

"We are importing the kits from China at the moment but when the commercial production of our kits begins, we will not have to import," Chaudhry said, adding that the kits are low priced, which could bring the cost of virus tests to a one-third.

Chaudhry praised the efforts of experts at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Islamabad who developed the testing kits, saying he is proud of them.

"The kits developed by our experts are better than the imported kits, and have over 90% accuracy," he said.

Pakistan, the second worst-hit in South Asia, has registered a total of 144,478 virus cases, including 2,729 deaths and 53,721 recoveries.

Many lawmakers, including two former prime ministers, an opposition leader, and several state ministers, have contracted the virus, forcing them to self-quarantine.

The World Health Organization has called on the government to implement “intermittent” lockdowns to counter a surge in infections after relaxing restrictions in recent weeks.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan signs $1.5 billion loan agreements with IFIs (#WorldBank, #ADB, #AIIB) to strengthen #COVID19 response & prevent long-term damage to the productive capacity of the country's #economy. via @Profitpk

Pakistan on Friday signed three financing agreements worth $1.5 billion with three International Financial Institutions (IFIs) — World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — to aid its anti-Covid response, besides strengthening healthcare and education systems.

Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan also witnessed the signing ceremony of the agreements in Islamabad, said a press release issued by the PM office.

Under the agreement for Covid-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Programme, the ADB would extend financial support of $500 million with the objective to support the Pakistani government’s efforts in strengthening its healthcare system and mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The AIIB would also extend co-financing of $500 million for the CARES Programme to augment the government’s efforts to mitigate the direct and indirect impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“By supporting industries and vulnerable groups that have been hard hit by Covid-19, this financing will help mitigate the economic shock and social impacts the country is currently facing,” said AIIB vice president, investment operations, Konstantin Limitovskiy, in a statement. “Preventing long-term damage to the productive capacity of the economy is essential. AIIB’s joint efforts with the international community are targeting this need,” he added.

The third agreement titled “Securing Human Investments to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) worth $500 million aims at strengthening the civil registration and vital statistics, health and education systems essential for human capital accumulation.

Ministry of Economic Affairs Secretary Noor Ahmed signed the three loan agreements on behalf of the Government of Pakistan while World Bank Country Director Patchamuthu Illangovan and ADB Country Director Xiaohong Yang signed agreements on behalf of the WB, ADB, and AIIB.

The disbursement of $1,500 million will be made to Pakistan in the next few days.

Riaz Haq said...

Minister Fawad Chaudhry: #Pakistan now among few countries producing their own #ventilators. The country would be able to meet its own need for ventilators and would also be able to export the equipment. #COVID19

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said on Sunday that the first batch of ventilators manufactured in Pakistan will be delivered to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the coming week.

In a video statement, he said that Pakistan has joined the ranks of those few countries which are producing their own ventilators.

According to the minister, the ventilator is a “complicated machine and not a lot of countries in the world have the capacity to make this”.

The minister expressed hopes that the country would be able to meet its own need for ventilators and would also be able to export the equipment.

“When the first Covid-19 case was recorded in February 26, we were not producing anything. Within a few months, we have become capable of producing our own equipment,” he said, congratulating the Pakistan Engineering Council, National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC), scientists and technicians.

Chaudhry also tweeted earlier in the day, announcing that eight to 10 ventilators manufactured in the first batch will be delivered to the NDMA.

He said the next three designs are also in their final stages, after which Pakistan will be among the few countries in the world that manufacture complex medical machines, in accordance with European Union (EU) standards.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan #pharma industry growing fast. #Pakistan’s domestic #pharmaceutical firms sales have grown 13.1% CAGR in last 4 years, outperforming multinational companies (MNCs), which saw global growth of 9.34% CAGR, according to global industry group IQVIA.

Emerging faster than the MNCs, the local pharmaceutical companies’ quarterly revenues surged to Rs320 billion till March 31, 2020 compared with Rs195.75 billion as of March 31, 2016. Similarly, MNCs increased their quarterly market size to Rs143.2 billion by the end of the first quarter of 2020 as against Rs100.2 billion in Q12016.

IQVIA is a global provider of information, innovative technology solutions and contract research services with operations in more than 100 countries.

Due to high rupee depreciation, overall industry growth in dollar terms in the first quarter of 2020 remained negative. In dollar terms, national companies witnessed CAGR of 2.41 percent in last four years compared with MNCs, which grew at a CAGR of negative 1.01 percent in the same period, the report said. The pharmaceuticals have remained functional during the Covid-19 pandemic and in fact registered growth.

Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20 disclosed that the pace of contraction diminished in the pharmaceutical sector, as it registered 5.38 percent decline during July to March in FY2020 as compared to 8.66 percent decline in the corresponding period the previous year. Also, the pharmaceutical sector recorded the highest sales in March, while it fetched $1.3 million foreign direct investment (FDI) in April 2020. Analysts believe at the present growth rate the market size for pharmaceuticals would double in the next 10 years in Pakistan.

But the impact of the pandemic would be severe in the coming months, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised down its world GDP projections and now expects a contraction of 4.9 percent in 2020.

“Apart from the last three months, the next twelve months will also be very tough for the Pakistan economy,” said Taha Khan Javed, Head of Equities at Al Meezan Investment. “The outlook for Pakistan GDP is also precarious with growth for next fiscal year expected to be only 1-2 percent, much below the normal growth 3-5 percent we have seen in the past.”

Javed said few industries including the pharmaceuticals of the country could play a vital role in their capacity to help the national economy. He suggested the pharmaceutical industry to ramp up production capacity, and collaborate with international pharmaceutical companies to bring critical medicines in the country and eventually aim for joint venture investment of production facilities.

“The government should ensure that timely price increases are given to companies so that they have incentive to increase their investment instead of relying on only imported medicines,” he added.

Medicine spending growth in the pharmerging markets
continues to slow compared to the past five years and
is projected to grow at 5–8% through 2023. Although
China, Brazil and India have the greatest medicine
spending within the pharmerging markets, Turkey,
Egypt and Pakistan are forecast to have the greatest
growth between 2019 and 2023 (see Exhibit 4).
Pharmerging market growth continues to derive
primarily from increasing per capita use, but some
markets are seeing wider uptake of newer medicines as
patients’ ability to afford their share of costs improves
with economic growth.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Rolls Out First Locally Produced #Ventilators to Fight #COVID19 . #ImranKhan has inaugurated the production unit in Haripur #KPK with the capacity to manufacture 300 ventilators a month and handed over first batch to NDMA. #coronavirus

Pakistan has rolled out its first ever locally produced ventilators for deployment at hospitals treating coronavirus patients as the national tally of COVID-19 infections rises to nearly 232,000.

The pandemic has killed about 4,800 people since late February when it reached the South Asian nation of about 220 million; however, officials have reported a consistent decline in new infections and deaths from the infection over the past week.

Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday inaugurated the production unit and handed over the first batch of ‘SafeVent SP100’ portable ventilators to the national disaster management agency.

The facility in the northern town of Haripur has a production capacity of up to 300 ventilators a month.

An official statement quoted Khan as describing production as “a landmark achievement” for Pakistan, which has long been criticized for importing crucial medical supplies, including ventilators, despite having developed sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s public health care system has for decades suffered from neglect, lack of funding and corruption, which encouraged expensive hospitals in the private sector to flourish in a country where about 25 percent of the population live below the national poverty line.

Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry recently told parliament there were only 1,400 functioning ventilators in government hospitals across the country when the pandemic hit it, immediately leading to an acute shortage of the life-saving equipment for critical coronavirus patients.

Pakistan’s close ally China, however, swiftly stepped in and sent urgent relief supplies, including hundreds of ventilators, millions of masks and testing kits, worth more than $55 million, enabling Islamabad to deal with the unfolding health-related crisis.

The United States also has pledged millions of dollars in new aid for Pakistan to help combat the ailment. President Donald Trump’s administration has already donated 100 ventilators to Islamabad out of a promised 200 machines.

Chaudhry, while hailing the U.S. “gesture of friendship,” said in a statement that Pakistan, in a short span of four months, has now begun its own large-scale production of sanitizers and personal protection equipment, noting the medical supplies are already being exported to the United States.

"In the next three years, Pakistan will have its own big medical and electromagnetic industry and I have no doubts that USA will be our major client,” the minister pledged.

Chaudhry also said three new manufacturing facilities in the public and private sector are being installed for commercial production of ventilators. He noted that Pakistan annually imports medical supplies worth more than $2 billion and pays an additional $1 billon in service agreements to run the equipment.

The minister said domestic production of medical equipment will save Pakistan much-needed foreign exchange and the country will be self-sufficient in next five years so it will not have to import any medical supplies.

Riaz Haq said...

#CoronaVirus Protection Gear Sales Reversing #Pakistan #Exports Fall. Exports of #PPE, #masks and other protective gear -- a new market -- have increased, says Abdul Razak Dawood. New export orders for #garments coming in. #COVID19 via @BloombergQuint

Pakistan has “really moved fast into that area,” Dawood said, referring to PPE. The current year should be a better one than last, he said. South Asia’s second-largest economy, whose exports dropped 7% in the year ended June, isn’t alone in stepping up production of PPEs. Neighbor India has become the world’s second-biggest maker of PPE kits after a shortage at the beginning of the outbreak pushed it to boost local manufacturing. Supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic has meant Pakistan secured its first sportswear order from Hugo Boss AG, according to Ijaz Akhtar Khokhar, chief coordinator at Pakistan Readymade Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Pakistan plans to give tax incentives to any global brand that opens an office in the country, said trade adviser Dawood. The South Asian nation is looking to spur growth in the economy after its first contraction in 68 years in the year ended June. While exports dropped in seven out of the past 12 months, the rupee’s depreciation -- by more than 50% since late 2017 -- has made the nation’s shipments competitive globally, said Dawood. Dawlance, a local home appliances maker, exported microwaves to Bangladesh for the first time, while D.G. Khan Cement Ltd. has sent clinker to new markets such as China and Philippines. The cement maker has another order from the Philippines for supply of 20,000 tons as well as making more shipments to China, according to CFO Inayatullah Niazi.

Riaz Haq said...

#IMF predicts #economic recovery in #Pakistan next year. Measures include: Rs1.2 trillion relief package, cash transfers to 6.2 million daily wagers, fast tax refunds for #exports, financial support to #SMEs & #farmers, #construction industry incentives.

A gradual recovery in Pakistan is expected in the fiscal year 2021 as the country’s economy reopens, says a report released by the Inter­natio­nal Monetary Fund (IMF).

The report — “Policy Act­ions Taken by Countries” – reviews various steps Pakis­tan has taken since March to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

The IMF notes that the near-term economic outlook of the country has worsened notably, and growth is estimated at –0.4 per cent in FY 2020.

According to this report, since mid-April, the federal government, in coordination with the provinces, has been gradually easing lockdown arrangements, by allowing ‘low-risk industries’ to restart operation and ‘small retail shops’ to reopen with newly developed Standard Operating Procedures.

In addition, restrictions on domestic and international movements have been lifted and educational institutes are expected to restart on July 15. ‘Selective’ lockdown arrangements remain in place, through the closure of shops on weekends and the sealing of specific areas of high risk.

A relief package worth Rs1.2 trillion was annou­nced on March 24, which is now being implemented and will be pursued in the fiscal year 2020-21. The report then details various measures taken by both federal and provincial governments to ease the economic impact of this pandemic.

Key measures by the federal government: elimination of import duties on emergency health equipment; cash transfers to 6.2 million daily wage workers, cash transfers to more than 12m low-income families; accelerated tax refunds to the export industry, out of which 65pc have already been disbursed, and financial support to SMEs and the agriculture sector.

The report notes that the economic package also earmarks resources for an accelerated procurement of wheat, support for health and food supplies, an emergency contingency fund, and a transfer to the Nat­ional Disaster Management Authority for the purchase of Covid-19 related equipment.

The report also mentions the provision of tax incentives to the construction sector to address the acute employment needs generated by the lockdowns.

The provincial governments, according to this report, have been also implementing supportive fiscal measures, consisting of cash grants to the low-income households, tax relief and additional health spending.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #Ehsaas program funding raised from Rs144bn to Rs203bn to soften #COVID19 impact on poor. “It means that almost half of the population of the country will be covered under the program,” says program chief Dr Sania Nishtar- DAWN.COM

Amid adverse impact of the coronavirus on the poor and people belonging to low-income groups, the government has decided to enhance the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme from Rs144 billion to Rs203bn.

Under the first phase of the programme [of Rs144 billion] 12 million families were provided four-month stipend of Rs12,000. Now with the increase in its funds the programme will facilitate around 17m families.

“It means that almost half of the population of the country will be covered under the programme,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Safety and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar at a press conference on Thursday.

“The scope of emergency cash programme has been expanded to reach out to around 16.9 million deserving families with the increased budget of Rs203 billion,” she added.

Accompanied by Information Minister Shibli Faraz, the SAPM said initially the programme was launched on April 9 with a budget of Rs144 billion for 12 million beneficiaries.

She, however, said 12.86 million beneficiaries across the country had so far received one-time cash assistance of Rs155.64bn through emergency cash initiative as in addition to Rs144bn over Rs10bn was distributed through other resources, including the Prime Minister Corona Fund.

“The government’s largest social protection programme, Ehsaas, has taken the lead in radically expanding social safety nets to help mitigate effects of Covid-19 within Pakistan,” she added.

Terming the programme a big success of the government, she said the programme was fully transparent, rule and merit based, and apolitical. “Sindh gains the most from this programme which shows its apolitical nature,” she said while giving an indirect reply to the allegation made by the ruling party in Sindh, Pakistan Peoples Party, that the province had been ignored and its people had not benefited from the scheme.

She said as compared to initiatives taken in other countries, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme gained international recognition for disbursing in time cash assistance in a well organised manner and at a larger scale.

Dr Nishtar said digital capabilities developed over the past year as part of the Ehsaas strategy had positively been adopted in making emergency cash payments.

“Requests were sought through an SMS short code service; data analytics enabled eligibility ascertainment, using unique national identification numbers and drawing on the National Socioeconomic Registry and wealth proxies (travel, taxes, billing, assets ownership data and government employment status), and payments are biometrically verified,” she explained the process of payments made under the programme.

The beneficiaries who were eligible but facing problems in withdrawing money owing to faulty biometric identification were being paid out exclusively in the designated bank branches of partner banks.

Similarly, to ease out the payment process for families of deceased beneficiaries, Ehsaas has adopted a procedure under which the families of deceased beneficiaries are required to send out an application in her name (Dr Sania Nishtar) with Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) details of their dead family member along with those of eligible family member straight to Ehsaas offices at Islamabad.

Ms Nishtar said Ehsaas has also launched ‘Ehsaas Emergency Cash — Know Your Status’ Portal to offer an easy window to people registered with Ehsaas Emergency Cash to check their eligibility. “All applicants who have registered themselves through 8171 or Prime Minister’s Labour Portal can now easily check their eligibility status by entering CNIC number on the portal,” she added.

Riaz Haq said...

Was Pride Their Downfall? #UK's Chief Medical Officer Before #COVID19 #pandemic humbled #Europe: “Being rich massively hardens a society against epidemics”


But that confidence would prove their undoing. Their pandemic plans were built on a litany of miscalculations and false assumptions. European leaders boasted of the superiority of their world-class health systems but had weakened them with a decade of cutbacks. When Covid-19 arrived, those systems were unable to test widely enough to see the peak coming — or to guarantee the safety of health care workers after it hit.

Accountability mechanisms proved toothless. Thousands of pages of national pandemic planning turned out to be little more than exercises in bureaucratic busy work. Officials in some countries barely consulted their plans; in other countries, leaders ignored warnings about how quickly a virus could spread.

European Union checks of each country’s readiness had become rituals of self-congratulation. Mathematical models used to predict pandemic spreads — and to shape government policy — fed a false sense of security.

National stockpiles of medical supplies were revealed to exist mostly on paper, consisting in large part of “just in time” contracts with manufacturers in China. European planners overlooked the risk that a pandemic, by its global nature, could disrupt those supply chains. National wealth was powerless against worldwide shortages.

Held in high esteem for its scientific expertise, Europe, especially Britain, has long educated many of the best medical students from Asia, Africa and Latin America. On a visit to South Korea after a 2015 outbreak of the coronavirus MERS, Dame Sally Davies, then England’s chief medical officer, was revered as an expert. Upon her return home, she assured colleagues that such an outbreak could not happen in Britain’s public health system.

Now South Korea, with a death toll below 300, is a paragon of success against the pandemic. Many epidemiologists there are dumbfounded at the mess made by their mentors.--------------

Prof. Chris Whitty, Britain’s chief medical adviser, stood before an auditorium in a London museum two years ago cataloging deadly epidemics.

From the Black Death of the 14th century to cholera in war-torn Yemen, it was a baleful history. But Professor Whitty, who had spent most of his career fighting infectious diseases in Africa, was reassuring. Britain, he said, had a special protection.

“Being rich,” he explained.

Wealth “massively hardens a society against epidemics,” he argued, and quality of life — food, housing, water and health care — was more effective than any medicine at stopping the diseases that ravaged the developing world.

Professor Whitty’s confidence was hardly unique. As recently as February, when European health ministers met in Brussels to discuss the novel coronavirus emerging in China, they commended their own health systems and promised to send aid to poor and developing countries.

“Responsibility is incumbent on us, not only for Italy and Europe, but also for the African continent,” said Roberto Speranza, Italy’s health minister.

“The European Union should be ready for support,” agreed Maggie De Block, Belgium’s then health minister.

Barely a month later, the continent was overwhelmed. Instead of serving primarily as a donor, providing aid to former colonies, Western Europe became an epicenter of the pandemic. Officials once boastful about their preparedness were frantically trying to secure protective gear and materials for tests, as death rates soared in Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Belgium.

This was not supposed to happen. The expertise and resources of Western Europe were expected to provide the antidote to viral outbreaks flowing out of poorer regions. Many European leaders felt so secure after the last pandemic — the 2009 swine flu — that they scaled back stockpiles of equipment and faulted medical experts for overreacting.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #COVID19: Getz Pharma-University of Health Sciences (UHS-#Lahore) find hydroxychloroquine safe & effective. Interim results show HCQ with Azithromycin & Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) an 86% recovery rate at day 14 as compared to 67% in the placebo group.

The preliminary results of the country’s largest drug trial on the coronavirus — Pakistan Randomized and Observational Trial to Evaluate Coronavirus Treatment (PROTECT) — has not only established the safety of hydroxychloroquine, a drug generally used for malaria, in terms of mortality but has also shown significant recovery rates in Covid-19 patients when used in combination with two other drugs- azithromycin and oseltamivir.

The claims, as well as the results, were made public here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS), on Monday, in a ceremony, which was presided by Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar and attended by Punjab Minister for Higher Education Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfraz, vice chancellors of the medical universities, researchers and faculty members.

Releasing the results of the study, UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram, who is also its principal investigator, clarified that it aimed at evaluating hydroxychloroquine alone and in various drug combinations as treatment of the coronavirus.

“It is a multicentre, multiarm, adaptive, randomized control drug trial aimed at newly diagnosed patients,” he informed the participants in the ceremony.

He said the study found that the coronavirus patients, who received the three drugs combined, had a recovery rate of 86pc.

UHS VC Prof Javed Akram told the participants that the drug trial was launched on April 30, after the approval from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and the National Bioethics Committee (NBC).

He added that 12 centres, including 10 universities from eight cities, were included in the study. The study enrolled Covid patients over the age of 18 who were divided into eight groups. The patients included in the research were 60pc male and 40pc female. The three medicines were given to seven groups, each consisting of 60 to 65 patients, alone and in different combinations, while one control group was given nothing.

Prof Javed Akram disclosed that the rate of recovery from the combination of the three drugs was the highest at 86pc. The second highest recovery rate was 75pc from azithromycin. The overall recovery rate of the patients, who were given medicines, was 73.1pc while the rate of recovery without medicines was 67pc. The 27pc of patients remained Corona-positive even two weeks after taking the drug. Of the patients who were not given any medication, 33pc remained Corona-positive even after two weeks.

The UHS VC added that the recovery rate in the first week of research was 33.5pc while in the second week, it increased to 72.2pc.

Initially, the PCR test was used as a basis for research. He said a total of four deaths were reported during the study. Three deaths occurred in groups receiving single medicine, while one death occurred in the group receiving a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

Mr Akram made it clear that the study was still in progress and it would involve around 9,500 patients when completed. He added that Rs30m had been spent on research so far, which the university had collected from its own resources and through donations.

King Edward Medical University VC Prof Khalid Masood Gondal, in his address, said if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were implemented on Eidul Azha, the coronavirus would be under control by September.

Paying a tribute to the front line health workers, Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said the nation would always remember the valour with which the health workers fought against the virus.

“A memorial wall is being erected at the Governor House in recognition of the services of the health workers that would bear the names of all the front line soldiers,” he added.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Central Bank (SBP) okays pilot operation of PayFast #ecommerce gateway. Large number of Pakistanis switched to #internet and #mobile banking & other #payments platforms since the start of #COVID19 pandemic. #DigitalPakistan | The Express Tribune

The State Bank of Pakistan has granted approval to the pilot operation of an e-commerce payment gateway.

PayFast aims to capitalise on over 80 million 3G/4G subscribers in Pakistan citing massive potential of e-commerce in the country.

The approval comes on back of a boom in online payments in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic as customer’s preferences shifted from cash to cashless means.

Nevertheless cash still remains dominant in the economy with over 90% of online transactions being conducted on cash on delivery mode, the company said.

In a statement on Friday, CEO of the platform Syed Adnan Ali said digitalisation is an indispensable need of the society particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Detailing about the platform, he said it aimed at providing intuitive, reliable and a high standard solution to consumers while also contributing to the economy.

He voiced hope that the platform will act as a catalyst to digitalise the economy and promote a cashless economy in Pakistan.

He added that company’s portfolio included 12 major banks of Pakistan.

However, the company added that it has low number of merchants primarily due to dearth of cost effective, robust and secure online payment solutions compatible with multiple modes of integration such as Open APIs, plugins etc.

Last year, the central bank began implementation of digital micro-payment infrastructure system which allowed transfer of funds in almost real time aimed at bringing a rapid surge in online payments in public and private sectors.

After outbreak of Covid-19 in Pakistan, a huge number of Pakistanis switched to internet and mobile banking and other payment platforms in a bid to adopt precautionary measures against the pandemic.

Riaz Haq said...

#Masks in #Pakistan: Textile units in #Faisalabad, #Lahore & #Karachi have switched entirely to producing masks for domestic use & export. On average, 500,000-600,000 masks were being produced daily at textile factories in Faisalabad city alone. #COVID19

KARACHI: As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across Pakistan, a chaotic market has sprung up for face masks.
In the early days, frontline medical staff and the public clamored for masks and other personal protective equipment, as production companies in Pakistan and around the world struggled with a host of obstacles, from illness to freight costs, from hoarding to a supply squeeze on filter fabric.
In Pakistan, which has recorded more than 270,000 infections so far, the shortage of masks was so acute in March and April that health workers took to social media to appeal for help and citizens hoarded supplies, pushing prices by up to 2,000 percent.
But these problems are a thing of the past as hundreds of new mask brokers and businesses have emerged around the country.
“I lost my job after the coronavirus pandemic triggered lockdowns and all businesses were shut down, but now I am happy because I have found a better alternative,” said Owais Ahmed, a manager at a garment factory who has been selling masks at a stall in Karachi’s Bolton Market for the past two months.
Every day, Ahmed said, he sells up to 20 boxes of masks (an average box has 50 masks), with each box costing up to 600 rupees ($3.5). The hot commodity in the mask trade, the N95 device, which is sturdier than surgical masks and has a better filter, sells for 300 rupees a piece.
Abdul Samad Memon, the senior vice chairman of the Pakistan Chemist and Druggists Association, said a box of surgical masks imported from China for up to 100 rupees sold for as much as 2,300 rupees in March.
But raids by the authorities pushed prices slowly down, and more production units had been set up as major textile firms switched their assembly lines to mask manufacturing.
Ijaz Khokhar, the chief coordinator for the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said many textile units operating in Faisalabad, Lahore and Karachi had switched entirely to producing masks for both local supply and export. On average, he said, 500,000 to 600,000 masks were being produced a day at textile factories in Faisalabad city alone.
In early March, the World Health Organization estimated that 89 million medical masks were required for the COVID-19 response each month, which required a 40 percent increase in manufacturing globally.
Medical suppliers and health care industry officials complain the frenzy to produce masks has broken down standard quality controls, opening the market to an influx of masks of uncertain effectiveness.
Manufacturers claim they have met all quality standards for masks for export, especially to the United States and the United Kingdom, and were working hard to bridge “quality deficiencies” in masks supplied to local buyers.
As virus infections have steadily declined around the world, vendors have begun to fear for the prospects of their new businesses.
“I think the mask business will continue for the whole year,” said Shahzad Ahmed Siddiqui, who switched to selling masks when his readymade garments business closed due to coronavirus lockdowns.
But Owais Ahmed feared the mask business would soon decline.
“The business will continue up to Eid Al-Adha,” he said as he arranged masks at his store. “Maximum business will go on for 15 to 20 days, not beyond that.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan To Invest $400 Million #WorldBank Loan to Deal With #locustattack & Promote #DistanceLearning. LEAFS & ASPIRE programs will help millions of farmers hit by #locust & accelerate #onlineeducation for children amid #COVID19 #lockdown via @reliefweb

“The compounded impact of the locust outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic calls for urgent, coordinated and targeted actions to secure Pakistan’s agricultural economy and improve educational systems to protect human capital,” said Illango Patchamuthu, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. ”Together, these projects will contribute to short- and long-term goals to increase Pakistan’s food security and achieve greater equity for students across the country.”

The Locust Emergency and Food Security Project (LEAFS) will support emergency actions to control the locust outbreak and prevent further spread across Pakistan and the South Asia region. In the short-term, it will benefit at least six million farmers and agricultural laborers, of which approximately 30 percent are women, by addressing the negative impacts on the livelihoods of farmers and laborers living in areas where crop damage and losses are most severe. The project will further support the medium- and long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector by promoting climate-smart solutions to increase resilience to weather-related hazards such as floods and droughts. LEAFS will improve early warning systems by strengthening the Food Security and Nutrition Information System (FSNIS), which is a critical decision-making tool to prevent pest outbreaks and improve national food security. The project will also improve coordination among provincial, national and regional authorities to reduce climate and disaster risk.

“This project responds to the crisis with immediate actions to protect Pakistan’s national food security and ensure sustainability of the agriculture sector,” said Guo Li, Task Team Leader for the project. “It will also strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research in policy making and managing disaster risk.”

The Actions to Strengthen Performance for Inclusive and Responsive Education Program (ASPIRE) will address school disruptions due to COVID-19 by accelerating virtual and distance learning opportunities for students. ASPIRE supports Pakistan’s efforts to safely reopen schools by establishing protocols and leveraging technology to expand access to online learning programs and training for teachers and administrators. Increased connectivity will help bridge the gap to provide education services for Pakistan’s youth, particularly among disadvantaged communities. The program will provide training to teachers on distance-learning and expand digital access through free, public Wi-Fi hotspots. ASPIRE also strengthens coordination among federal and provincial governments to generate new investments in traditional and alternative education programs to accelerate the recovery phase and build back better.

“School disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affect disadvantaged and hard-to-reach children, especially girls and young women,” said Manal Quota and Juan Baron, Task Team Leaders for the program. “The program addresses immediate and medium-term response efforts to increase education services for out-of-school students by combining traditional and innovative learning approaches through new technology and alternative teaching methods.”

Riaz Haq said...

Excepts of Wall Street Journal Story Why Youthful, Conservative Pakistan Is a Coronavirus Bright Spot

Two months ago, Pakistan was drawing unfavorable Covid-19 comparisons with Brazil

"Major hospitals report beds are freeing up in previously overflowing coronavirus wards, even in Pakistan’s biggest and hardest-hit city, Karachi," the Wall Street Journal said in a report from Islamabad. "The tally of patients on ventilators has halved over the past month," it adds.

"This is all happening as Pakistan’s neighbours to the east and west — India and Iran — are still reporting that infection rates are climbing steadily," the Journal said.

Even more surprising, the report added, was how the progress in Pakistan — where coronavirus was spreading out of control some two months ago — came after Prime Minister Imran Khan resisted the World Health Organization's (WHO) advice, declaring in May that lockdowns are too costly for the poor and reopening the economy.

"We charted the tough course between a strict lockdown and completely opening up," Dr Faisal Sultan, an infectious diseases physician brought in by PM Imran Khan as his adviser for COVID-19.

The report about Pakistan’s success comes when even the US — a superpower with enormous resources at its disposal — struggles to control the pandemic, with 4.7 million cases and 157,000 deaths.

PM Imran started wearing a mask in public

Pakistani health officials have not declared a win, the report said, adding they worry that progress could be undone, particularly with the current Eid-ul-Azha holiday and the upcoming Muharram, both of which traditionally attract public gatherings across the country.

Relatively low testing levels in Pakistan have also raised questions about the scale of the decline, the Journal noted, but quoted medical experts as saying that the turnaround trend is clear. Tellingly, the proportion of tests coming back positive has more than halved, it said, citing official figures.

Pakistan locked its economy down in March, early on in its outbreak, which kept the virus from spreading widely while the population stayed home, the WSJ stated. However, after the restrictions were lifted in May, many Pakistanis celebrated the end of the fasting month of Ramazan with shopping sprees and visits to family, unleashing a burst of infections.

The rapid spread jolted people into changing their behavior, with more mask-wearing, hand-washing, and maintaining social distance, Dr Sultan was cited as saying. The preventive messages increased from the government and public service campaigns.

The prime minister also started wearing a mask in public, the report highlighted


Just 4% of Pakistan’s population is over 65 — compared with 16% in the US and 23% in Italy, according to United Nations data. The average age in Pakistan is 22, more than a decade younger than Brazil, and 25 years younger than Italy, noting also that there are no bars and nightclubs.

There are also no institutionalised homes for the elderly, sites of deadly outbreaks elsewhere. Women tend not to go out of the home to work, meaning the workforce is overwhelmingly made up of men who are mostly young, it was pointed out.

Riaz Haq said...

Coronavirus: Youthful Pakistan appears to avoid worst of pandemic
By Secunder Kermani
BBC News

With around 6,000 coronavirus deaths in a population of approximately 230 million people, Pakistan appears to have fared far better than most Western countries. The UK, for example, has recorded more than 41,000 deaths in a population of around 67 million. Cities in neighbouring India, such as Delhi and Mumbai, seem to have been worse affected.


Testing has been relatively low, and numbers are in fact decreasing. There are certainly many more coronavirus cases than the roughly 290,000 officially recorded, but the recorded drop in infections is substantiated by the fact that the proportion of tests that come back as positive has also been decreasing, as have hospital admissions.

Data obtained by the BBC from officials in the country's two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, show that there was a significant rise in graveyard burials in June that can't be explained by coronavirus deaths alone.

For example, in Miani Sahib graveyard, the largest in Lahore, in June 2020 there were 1,176 burials this June, compared to 696 in June last year.

Only 48 of the burials this June were of officially recorded coronavirus patients. The rise is likely to be a combination of undetected coronavirus deaths, and patients suffering from other illnesses not getting treatment as hospitals were under such pressure.

Similarly, in Karachi, June 2020 saw significantly more burials than at any other time during the past two years.

However, in both cities burial figures appear to be returning to more normal rates. Even if some of the "excess deaths" are assumed to be the result of coronavirus, by international standards the mortality rate in Pakistan appears to be relatively low, though not quite as low as official data would suggest.

For leading Pakistani epidemiologist Dr Rana Jawad Asghar, the principal reason for this is Pakistan's young population. The average age in Pakistan is 22 years, compared to about 41 in the UK. The vast majority of deaths globally from the coronavirus have been of elderly patients.

Dr Asghar told the BBC that less than 4% of Pakistan's population is aged 65 and above, whereas in more developed countries the proportion is around 20-25%. "That is why we haven't seen that many deaths in Pakistan," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

#Karachi soup kitchen has been serving hot meals for 20 years. It's been pushed to the limit in #Covid_19. It usually serves about 3,000 people a day, but in June, at the height of the #pandemic in #Pakistan, over 5,000 people showed up every day. #charity

And now, in a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, it has become a lifeline to thousands of struggling families during the pandemic.

At Khana Ghar, which translates to Food House, the day begins with workers rolling out dough to prepare a traditional bread called tandoori roti, which is baked in a clay oven. At lunchtime, the soup kitchen welcomes those who need a meal.

But the food is not totally free — Khana Ghar charges a token amount of 3 rupees per person, according to Parveen Saeed, who started the kitchen, which does not take a profit.

"The only logic behind it is that people are at least buying the food they are eating, so their self-respect remains intact," Saeed said. "When you give free food, people stop working. They think 'I'm getting free food for my family, and now they won't go hungry,' but when they buy it for 3 rupees, they will still work hard, earn the money, and feel like they are legitimately providing for their family."

This year, families have been talking more than ever. Make time to talk about your financial plans. Because the more we talk, the better we plan, protect and retire.

Saeed launched Khana Ghar back in 2002 after she moved to Surjani Town, a low-income neighborhood in Karachi.

A journalist by profession, she started to feed the poor after a tragic incident shook her world — a story of a local mother who killed her two children who she had been unable to feed.

"I asked her, why did you kill them?" Saeed said. "And she said one sentence: 'If your kids were hungry, you would kill them too.' That sentence can change your life, and it certainly changed mine."

"It takes me 30 minutes to get here. I walk here. I don't even have shoes, but thank God this place is here," Yameen said. "They take good care of me."

On a good day, Yameen earns 50 rupees, or 30 cents, selling plastic chairs.

But he has six children and is the only breadwinner in the family. He told us that his wife recently died from complications of COVID-19.

"I called the doctor, I called the ambulance, but my wife died in my arms," he said. "I am telling you the truth that I've really suffered."

Even death is costly these days, Yameen added, saying you need around 50,000 rupees to afford a proper funeral and burial.

Even during this trying time, Yameen says he can always count on a hot meal at Khana Ghar.

But the kitchen is being pushed to it limits. It usually serves about 3,000 people a day, but in June, at the height of the pandemic in Pakistan, over 5,000 people showed up every day.

"People said you're putting your life in danger, but we took all the precautions," she said. "We wore masks, gloves, sanitized, sprayed, and maintained social distance."

But she said that despite the challenges the soup kitchen did not stop serving food. "Poor people were telling us we will not die of the coronavirus, but what will eventually kill us is hunger," Saeed said.

With nearly 6,000 deaths in a population of 230 million people, experts say Pakistan has been spared the worst. The lockdown has mostly been lifted, and life is slowly going back to normal.

But hunger still persists. And although Parveen says that she's trying to do her best to help, it's not always enough.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan: ICRC operational response to COVID-19

COVID-19 poses unprecedented challenges to states and communities across the globe. Like in many other countries, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has joined the massive efforts being carried out by the government, local communities and humanitarian organizations to control the spread of the pandemic in Pakistan through a context-centered approach with a special focus on vulnerable communities. Our response is structured along the following key operational areas:

Supporting health-care facilities
Health care infrastructure forms the backbone of the response to COVID-19. To help the health sector fight this pandemic we have provided:

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), disinfection items, awareness posters, triage tents and waste management materials to four public hospitals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) and the merged areas.
Technical guidance to hospital management in KP and merged areas on infection prevention and improving triage capacity.
PPE and hygiene material for staff and patients at 24 physical rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC.
Financial support to 3,400 families of people with disabilities.
Online medical consultation and free-of-cost diabetes medicines to 1,800 patients across Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Mughal, who was among those who received the medicines, said, "I had run out of ideas for managing my health. Then The Diabetes Centre (TDC) called and set up an online consultation that included a video medical examination. A couple of days later, officials from TDC and the basic health unit came home to give me medicines for about two months along with information on identifying symptoms of COVID-19 and how to stay safe."

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan has used the infrastructure it developed in its fight against polio to tackle COVID-19, said the Director-General. Community health workers, previously used to vaccinate children for polio, have been redeployed for contact tracing and monitoring.

7 countries (Pakistan, Italy, Thailand, Mongolia, Mauritius and Uruguay) to learn from

The Director-General highlighted 7 countries, amongst many, whose preparation and response offer lessons for the rest of the world.


Thailand has benefited from 40 years of health system strengthening, he explained.

A well-resourced medical and public health system is supported by strong leadership. Coupled with 1 million village health volunteers, and strong communication, the nation has built trust and compliance and confidence among the general population, he said.


Italy was one of the first countries to experience a large outbreak outside of China, said Dr Tedros. It "took hard decisions based on the evidence and persisted with them". Unity and solidarity, along with the dedication of health workers, helped bring the outbreak under control, he explained.


Mongolia also reacted quickly. It activated its State Emergency Committee in January and didn't report a case until January and still has no reported deaths.


Mauritius used previous experience with contact-tracing and a swift response to overcome high-risk issues - high population density, high rate of non-communicable diseases and lots of international travellers.


Uruguay has one of Latin America's most 'robust and resilient' health systems in Latin America, explained Dr Tedros. Sustainable investments in public health were built on political consensus, he added.


Pakistan has used the infrastructure it developed in its fight against polio to tackle COVID-19, said the Director-General. Community health workers, previously used to vaccinate children for polio, have been redeployed for contact tracing and monitoring.

And more...

There are many other countries who've done well, added Dr Tedros. From Japan to New Zealand and Viet Nam, many countries have fared better because of lessons learned during previous outbreaks of disease, such as SARS or Ebola.

Having learned the lessons of previous pandemics, it's therefore "vital that we learn the lessons this pandemic is teaching us," he concluded.


Dr Tedros called on countries to invest in public health, as a "foundation of social, economic and political stability".

Significant progress has been made in medicine, he said, but too many countries have neglected their public health systems:

"Part of every country’s commitment to build back better must therefore be to invest in public health, as an investment in a healthier and safer future."

But there are countries the rest of the world can learn from, he said in his opening remarks. Here's a summary of what he said.

Riaz Haq said...

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 7 September 2020

Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat COVID-19. Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children for polio have been utilized for surveillance, contact tracing and care.

There are many other examples we could give, including Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Viet Nam and more.

Many of these countries have done well because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases.

That’s why it’s vital that we all learn the lessons this pandemic is teaching us.

Although Germany’s response was strong, it is also learning lessons.

I welcome the announcement by Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend that her government will invest 4 billion euros by 2026 to strengthen Germany’s public health system.

I call on all countries to invest in public health, and especially in primary health care, and follow Germany’s example.

Riaz Haq said...

Social Safety Program Amid COVID19 Pandemic:

India is able to reach a high percentage of households through the combination of multiple programs including food rations, pensions, LPG cooking gas subsidies, food-for-work programs, farmer subsidies and making transfers to holders of Aadhaar-linked Jan Dhan accounts. Already, this approach appears to have been able to support quite a high proportion of poor households by scaling up food rations and various financial transfers. Initial survey results suggest that the system has provided material assistance, although some difficulties have been reported in cashing out payments and using the funds to purchase supplies.

In addition to the federal government, many states have announced their own programs to help people who fall through the system, especially migrants. But states face hard budget constraints due to expenditure ceilings imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. Although the central government has allowed states to borrow up to 50 percent of their yearly credit needs upfront, the current uncertainty may prevent them from significantly expanding the range, scope, and scale of social assistance programs.

Lessons so far: The architecture of direct benefit transfers and JAM facilitates both scale-up and portability of benefits. But it is not possible to get an integrated view across programs which hinders coordination between the central and state-level initiatives. Many people fall through the cracks, especially migrants whose place of current residence does not match their registration location. In crises that disrupt supply chains there is an important role for efficient in-kind systems, but these have to be designed to ensure portability across states.

Building on the platform for BISP, the main social safety net program, Pakistan has announced a major scaleup of financial assistance to people affected by COVID-19. The Ehsaas Emergency Cash program distributes cash to 12 million families whose livelihood is severely impacted by the pandemic or its aftermath. People apply for the benefits through mobile phones. Their claim is assessed, which can include a check against databases, linking records with the national ID number. If they are approved, they can collect their benefit, after biometric authentication, at one of 17,000 cash disbursement centers that have been set up. From its inception in early April, cash has reportedly reached about one quarter of those entitled to the transfer, indicating a significant degree of state capacity to scale up transfers quickly.

Lessons so far: Pakistan is able to use its ID system and mobiles to initiate a large-scale centrally managed transfer program to uniquely identified and verified recipients. Because of the links with the National Socio-Economic Register and several other databases, the government can apply a range of exclusion rules to help target the transfers without making beneficiaries go through time-consuming application and verification procedures. Drawing on its past experience disbursing flood relief in 2007, Pakistan is also using mobile technology to offer recipients a choice of providers, although special payment points are needed because of low financial inclusion. It is not known how easily people are able to purchase supplies with their financial grants.

Bangladesh has announced a range of programs but has not yet begun to implement them, and faces questions on how it will proceed. Some programs will be able to disburse through mobile money accounts, but many will not. There are also questions about the resilience of the mobile agent network: many agents provide service as a side business while their main income is from small shops, including in markets. They may not find it worthwhile to offer cash-out services if they are not able to open for normal business.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan Polio Eradication Program:

All cases in 2019 came from districts Balochistan (nine cases), Punjab (five cases), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (61 cases) and Sindh (nine cases). Cases have been associated with poor vaccine coverage, with rates as low as 35% in Balochistan province. Vaccine refusals partially due to spread of false information within a community, community campaign fatigue and poor vaccine implementation are potential reasons for exacerbation of cases. In addition, three-dose coverage of OPV is highly variable among provinces in Pakistan. The status of polio eradication in Pakistan has serious implications for the success of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

During this time period, surveillance for both AFP cases and contaminated environmental sites has increased. Systemic sewage testing was performed at 60 sites, and 45% tested positive for WPV1 in 2019 compared with 15% in 2018 and 16% in 2017. Prior nonreservoir sites, especially in districts with detected human cases, tested positive for WPV1.

Due to this increase in cases, supplemental immunization activities have been implemented, particularly in high-risk districts. As of August 2019, 19,274 community health care providers have been deployed to 15 districts, including along official border crossings with Afghanistan and major domestic transportation routes. The Pakistan polio eradication program has performed several management, communication, community involvement and epidemiologic reviews to identify gaps to improve vaccine compliance and interrupt WPV1 transmission.

Although no cases in travelers have been reported in the U.S. since 1993, clinicians should remain vigilant and obtain travel histories in patients who present with AFP symptoms.

Riaz Haq said...

Inside Pakistan’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing
Detective work is at the heart of efforts to fight the pandemic. Will it be enough?

By Niha Dagia

How Can We Make Contact Tracing Successful?

To identify as many contacts as possible and as fast as possible takes a large-scale organized mechanism. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, the staff required for contact tracing varies depending on several factors including the daily tally of cases as well as the number of contacts who have been identified, isolated, notified, and advised to monitor symptoms and practice social distancing.

With local transmission varying between 95 to 98 percent across provinces, Pakistan lacks the capacity to investigate and trace all suspected cases.

But the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) has been on the frontline in the fight against the pandemic ever since its assets — including surveillance, data, and communication capabilities — were rerouted by the government in March 2020.

Their surveillance system has been adopted for COVID-19 contact tracing, tracking the disease’s spread, and creating awareness on prevention and containment.

Active surveillance for influenza-like illness (ILI), severe acute respiratory infections (SARI), and suspected COVID-19 cases has been integrated into the ongoing acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) active and passive surveillance system used in the fight against polio.

For contact tracing to work, the community needs to be involved. Since polio staff are already trained for door-to-door campaigns and carrying out risk perception in the community, it is now mobilizing defense against the fast-spreading virus.

“We have found significant positives amongst those traced via contact tracing and thus it has impacted on reducing further spread via self isolation, education and sensitization of the contacts,” said Dr. Sultan. “Quantification is sometimes not easy, but is being analyzed to see if a numerical value could be assigned with confidence.”

For a country that lacks a functioning healthcare system, its only defense against the virus is to contain the spread. Success will depend on the network of contract tracers, working behind the scenes to map out the pandemic in Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

WHO Credits Pakistan's Community Health Program For Success Against COVID19

Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) has been on the frontline in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic ever since its assets — including surveillance, data, and communication capabilities — were rerouted by the government in March 2020. Their surveillance system has been adopted for COVID-19 contact tracing, tracking the disease’s spread, and creating awareness on prevention and containment. Active surveillance for influenza-like illness (ILI), severe acute respiratory infections (SARI), and suspected COVID-19 cases has been integrated into the ongoing acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) active and passive surveillance system used in the fight against polio. For contact tracing to work, the community needs to be involved. Since polio staff are already trained for door-to-door campaigns and carrying out risk perception in the community, it is now mobilizing defense against the fast-spreading virus. “We have found significant positives amongst those traced via contact tracing and thus it has impacted on reducing further spread via self isolation, education and sensitization of the contacts,” said Dr. Sultan. “Quantification is sometimes not easy, but is being analyzed to see if a numerical value could be assigned with confidence.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan has ‘potential to develop #vaccines’. Experts believe second wave of #coronavirus #pandemic will not be severe in Pakistan. #Covid_19

Pakistan has the potential to develop vaccines as the country achieved the capability in this area a few years ago, including the availability of specialists and the technology, experts in the fields of infections control and immunisations said on Monday.

Dr Obaid Ali, former federal secretary for biological drugs and Dr Rafiq Khanani, President, Pakistan Infection Control Society (PICS), said that pharmaceutical manufacturing from around the world was shifting to India and China, but unfortunately vaccine development was stalled in Pakistan over the past decade.

“Pakistan has been capable of developing vaccines. The NIH [National Institute of Health] Islamabad has all the capabilities to make a vaccine… there are also vaccine specialists and technologists in the country,” Dr Khanani told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview.

“Unfortunately, vaccine development process had been stalled in the country over the past decade,” he said.

His views were endorsed by Dr Ali. “The manufacturing of Pakistan’s pharma companies is dependent on the neighbouring countries, especially China and India,” he said.

Unfortunately, Dr Ali added, the vaccine industry had been paralysed and as a result even “our basic vaccine requirement” was met through imports. “These vaccines are imported through international institutions and commercial companies.”

Responding to a question about the Covid-19 vaccines and trials, Dr Ali said that the technique to develop the Covid-19 vaccine was new. “This technique is safe and effective but only time will tell how useful it is after which the claim of its efficacy could be substantiated,” he added.

“The trial for the vaccine has been completed in different countries. Finally, the trial phase got under way. There is a significant evidence of a lifetime of immunity but if a major change is observed in the structure of the virus later, the vaccine may not work,” he said.

About Pakistan, Dr Ali opined that the country might not be in too much need of the vaccines because it seems that “most of our population has developed immunity against coronavirus”. He added that a second virus of this family already existed in Pakistan against which “our antibodies are working”.

“These antibodies have the potential to be effective against Covid-19 too. In the presence of this evidence, it can be said that our large population has developed immunity,” said Dr Ali, adding that many theories and estimates regarding the virus proved wrong in Pakistan.

When asked about the second wave of the pandemic, Prof Dr Khanani opined that the severity of coronavirus would be limited in Pakistan as compared to the first phase. “The immunity of the Pakistanis is one of the highest in Asian countries, while respiratory immunity system in particular, is very strong.”

Referring to the first wave of Covid-19 in Pakistan, he said that due to improved immunity among the population, the severity of the virus had declined significantly in Pakistan as the number of new cases were decreasing gradually.

“Now, this virus is spreading less. In hotspots where it is still spreading, it is showing a declining trend. Immunity has led to changes in the structure of the virus, which is reducing its ability to spread,” he said, adding that although, the second wave would not be that severe in Pakistan, people with weak immune systems needed to be careful.

He said that several trials of Covid-19 vaccine were in the final stages and the human trials of six of these vaccines had been started but the results of the tested vaccines were not yet known to the world, including Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan ramps up #COVID19 drug #remdesivir production under Gilead deal. #Lahore-based Ferozsons has 100,000 doses in stock as demand has declined in Pakistan. It's exporting the drug to the #Caribbean, #Kenya and the #Philippines. via @financialtimes

India and Pakistan have ramped up production of the coronavirus drug remdesivir under a licensing agreement with Gilead Sciences, but onward distribution to other developing countries has been slow.

Vamsi Krishna Bandi, managing director at pharma company Hetero, said there was no longer a remdesivir shortage in India — the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world — and that the business had delivered about 800,000 doses of the drug domestically since starting production in June.

But while doctors in India are prescribing the experimental Covid-19 treatment, the majority of the 127 countries in the Gilead licensing deal have yet to start buying it.

Few countries “have actually put in a system for procurement”, said Mr Bandi, adding that few African countries in particular were placing orders. Hetero has exported to 25 countries, while Cipla, another Indian manufacturer, said it had only shipped to South Africa and Nepal.

Developed as a potential treatment to the haemorrhagic fever Ebola, Gilead’s remdesivir inhibits the development of viruses in the body and was found to shorten recovery time from Covid-19. It received emergency use authorisation in the US in May after a large randomised control trial of more than a thousand patients showed that it cut the time to recovery to 11 days, from 15 days in the placebo group.

More recent trials in July, showed the drug may also reduce the risk of death, suggesting the antiviral treatment could do more than just speed up recovery.

Since May, Gilead has signed licensing agreements with nine generic pharmaceutical companies in India, Pakistan and Egypt to supply remdesivir to 127 developing countries, following a model pioneered during the Aids/HIV epidemic.

“Currently, our licensees have made remdesivir available to patients in need in more than 40 countries, and we expect this number will continue to grow over the coming months,” Gilead said, adding “we are pleased by the rapid progress made by this effort”.

Osman Waheed, chief executive of Ferozsons Laboratories Limited, one of Pakistan’s largest pharma companies, said that he had a stockpile of more than 100,000 remdesivir doses after waiting weeks for healthcare authorities in Islamabad to approve exports.

Ferozsons is now shipping the drug to the Caribbean, Kenya and the Philippines, though is still sitting on large stocks after the Covid-19 cases in Pakistan declined.

“We have 100,000 doses today, we have nowhere near that level of demand in Pakistan,” said Mr Waheed. “The [coronavirus] burden on the healthcare system has almost dropped off a cliff.”

Riaz Haq said...

WHO chief praises #Pakistan’s successful handling of #coronavirus #pandemic . In an Op Ed in the #UK’s “The Independent”, he writes: “Pakistan deployed infrastructure built up for polio to combat Covid-19” #COVID19 #PTI #ImranKhan | The Express Tribune

One million lives have been lost to coronavirus, but it's never too late to fight back

This milestone is a difficult moment for the world, but there are glimmers of hope that encourage us now and in the near future

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat Covid-19. Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children against polio have been redeployed and utilised for surveillance, contact tracing and care. This has suppressed the virus so that, as the country stabilises, the economy is also now picking up once again. Reinforcing the lesson that the choice is not between controlling the virus or saving the economy; the two go hand-in-hand.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a hit job on Pakistan...seems that Economist never heared of #COVID19 “positivity rate” that is guiding #California and most of the world in decision making. #Pakistan positivity rate has been below 2% since August, thanks to #ImranKhan’s policies

According to this Economist piece, "Imran Khan crowed" about Pakistan's success against COVID19 pandemic. It quotes an Indian professor at Princeton saying "Test not, find not" and Pakistan's "relative backwardness" as the reasons for Pakistan's lower cases. Conspicuously absent from Economist's narrative is the fact that the percentage of tests (25,000-30,000 a day) that are positive has been below 2% since August, 2020.

Excerpt: " “We have not only managed to control the virus, stabilise our economy, but most importantly, we have been able to protect the poorest segment of our society from the worst fallouts of the lockdown,” crowed Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, in a recent video address to the un General Assembly."

Excerpt: "There are less heroic reasons for Pakistan’s lower covid toll, too. Some, ironically, stem from its relative backwardness. “Basically, it is undertesting on a massive scale,” contends Ramanan Laxminarayan of Princeton University. He notes that Pakistan tests for covid at less than a quarter of India’s rate, per person, adding that the relatively poor Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population equal to Pakistan’s and a similar failure to test widely, has also registered similar numbers of cases and fatalities (see chart). “Test not, find not,” says Mr Laxminarayan. “It’s the same with authoritarian regimes the world over.”


Demography is another factor. Both Pakistan and India have a far smaller proportion of old people than rich countries do. Just 4% of Pakistanis are over 65, for example, compared with 23% of Italians. Yet the median age in Pakistan, 23, is four years lower than India’s, and its average life expectancy, 67, is two years shorter. This puts a far smaller proportion of Pakistanis in the age bracket most vulnerable to covid.

Although both countries remain largely rural, Indians are much more mobile, both domestically and internationally. Some 160m Indians travel by air annually compared with fewer than 10m Pakistanis; passenger traffic on Indian railways is 130 times greater. Mr Modi’s lockdown, ironically, first bottled tens of millions of migrant workers inside cities that were often reservoirs of covid and then, as pressure mounted to let them return to their villages, distributed the epidemic more widely. Pakistanis, by and large, have instead stayed put at home, which more often means a family home in a village, and less often the kind of crowded workers’ colonies that ring Indian cities. The laxness of Pakistan’s lockdown meant that most small businesses stayed open, whereas nearly all in India were forced to close.


Despite the starkly different trajectories covid has taken so far in India and Pakistan, experts warn against drawing firm conclusions. “Our lockdown may have hurt India more than the disease itself, but in other respects we are much like Pakistan,” says Jayaprakash Muliyil, an adviser to India’s National Institute of Epidemiology. None of the numbers coming from either country is likely to present a true picture, he suggests: “We both really cannot see what is happening in villages, where most people live, and we share the same disdain for proper data.”