Ministry seeking tax waiver on key items’ import

Updated 12 Apr 2020

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During the hearing of the case, the court had asked the government to take all measures to keep prices of these necessary medical items on the lower side and consider steps for manufacturing the same locally. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
During the hearing of the case, the court had asked the government to take all measures to keep prices of these necessary medical items on the lower side and consider steps for manufacturing the same locally. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services informed the Supreme Court on Saturday that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country it was engaged with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), seeking tax waiver on the import of essential medical equipment and supplies.

According to a report submitted by the ministry to the top court, the medical equipment and items for which tax waiver and relaxation in the PPRA rules are being sought include ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and paramedical staff, specialised masks for health service providers, goggles, gloves, sanitisers and other kits and similar equipment.

The report was furnished in line with an earlier directive of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court hearing a suo motu case to oversee efforts and measures being taken by the federal and provincial governments to combat the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The case will now be taken up for hearing on Monday by the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed. At the last hearing of the case on April 7, the Supreme Court was alarmed when it came to know that the Balochistan government had to arrange PPE urgently for doctors and paramedical staff at the exorbitant price of Rs7,200 per piece from vendors in Karachi and Lahore while the actual price of each PPE was Rs3,000 to Rs3,500 in the market.

Tells SC ventilators, PPE, specialised masks, goggles, gloves, sanitisers are on the list

During the hearing of the case, the court had asked the government to take all measures to keep prices of these necessary medical items on the lower side and consider steps for manufacturing the same locally. The fresh report submitted in the court on Saturday explained that steps were being taken by the government to encourage local production of critical medical equipment and items with the support of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) and Defence Science and Technology Organisation (Desto).

In addition to the report, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Mr Amanullah Kanrani, who belongs to Balochistan, moved an application on Saturday seeking to become a party in the suo motu proceedings.

The application regretted that even though the menace of coronavirus surfaced in the country in January this year, the government failed to timely arrange medicines, protective equipment, kits, ventilators, hospital beds etc for the treatment of patients suffering from the virus.

Because of this situation, the application alleged, the country was unable to effectively combat the pandemic at the early stage and now Covid-19 had created an alarming situation for the masses across the country.

In these circumstances, the applicant stated, he was moving the application to become a party in the case and to bring the factual position before the court.

Meanwhile, the health ministry’s report submitted to the Supreme Court stated that 850 healthcare providers including doctors, paramedical staff and allied staff had been trained so far to control the pandemic in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). Of these 850 members, 200 belong to PIMS, 350 to DHO and 300 to CHE.

The report further said that 207 hospitals in all major cities and 154 districts had been identified for isolation of patients and isolation capacity of these institutions had also been increased.

In the ICT, a total of 300 beds are available to quarantine patients affected by Covid-19 in different areas apart from hospitals like 50 beds each in the Pak-China Friendship Centre, OGDCL, Radisson Hotel, Hill View Hotel and 100-bed facility in Haj Complex.

Moreover, in the ICT four more diagnostic facilities have been established for Covid-19 testing namely the National Institute of Health, Shifa International Hospital, Maroof International Hospital and the Islamabad Diagnostic Centre.

The health ministry also informed the top court that 13,000 health facilities across the country had been entrusted with the job of collecting surveillance data of patients suffering from Covid-19 disease.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020