ISLAMABAD: The novel coronavirus kept up its relentless surge on Wednesday, claiming the lives of one lawmaker each from the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies and infecting a record 4,772 people in a single day. The total number of cases has now jumped to 83,247.

In yet another worrisome development, 16 employees of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research Development tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the closure of its offices for two days.

According to a document available with Dawn, the third and the fourth floors of Pak Secretariat’s B block and the Shaheed-i-Millat secretariat shall remain closed on Thursday and Friday (today and tomorrow) for disinfection. The employees who tested positive have been told to quarantine themselves at their homes until they test negative.

But on a positive side, the highest number of tests — 17,310 — were conducted on Wednesday, lending credence to claims made by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) about the country’s improving testing capacity.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), Sajid Shah, has tested positive for Covid-19.

Virtual Global Vaccines Summit

British High Commissio­ner Christian Turner met Dr Zafar Mirza, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health, on Wednesday to exchange views regarding the virtual Global Vaccines Summit being hosted by the United Kingdom on Thursday (today).

The summit is expected to raise seven billion pounds to ensure that when a vaccine for Covid-19 is developed, it is available to all countries,

The UK has pledged a record funding of £1.65 billion to GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance, which distributes vaccines in poor countries.

Dr Mirza said Pakistan would take part in the summit and thanked the High Commissioner for his country’s help in fighting the novel coronavirus.

According to a statement, Christian Turner said the pandemic needed a global effort to find a vaccine.

“I am pleased that the UK is co-hosting the Global Vaccines Summit to find a vaccine and to ensure that it is available to all. The UK and Pakistan are the best example of international friendship and it matters now more than ever.

“In Pakistan, we are repurposing our multi-million pound aid programme to help defeat this terrible virus and mitigate its impact,” he said.

Dr Mirza assured Mr Turner that Pakistan would support the British initiative.

“We are looking forward to the development of a coronavirus vaccine and its equitable distribution to all countries. PM Khan has already given a call for ‘people’s vaccine’ to be made available to all,” Dr Mirza said.

Britain has so far pledged £764 million to end the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible. Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed a record funding of £250m at the Coronavirus Global Response Initiative the UK co-hosted last month to raise funds for vaccine research.

The deceased lawmakers were identified as Shaukat Manzoor Cheema, a PML-N MPA from Wazirabad in Punjab, and Mian Jamsheduddin Kakakhel, a PTI MPA from Nowshera.

Mr Cheema succumbed to the deadly coronavirus at the Pakistan Liver and Kidney Institute (PKLI), Lahore, whereas Mr Kakakhel in Islamabad.

According to PKLI’s spokesperson, Shaukat Cheema was also a heart patient and he had been on a ventilator since May 25.

The 68 year-old, three-time MPA from Wazirabad was a diehard PML-N worker and considered to be close to both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar expressed his deep sense of sorrow and grief over the death of Mr Cheema and expressed his heartfelt sympathy with the bereaved family.

Mr Jamsheduddin, who had also served as a provincial minister, was admitted to a private hospital in Islamabad after contracting coronavirus a few days ago. He was 66.

A family member of the deceased MPA said he tested positive for Covid-19 on May 28 after which he was admitted to the hospital and for three days he had remained on ventilator due to his precarious health condition.

Funeral of the deceased was held at Ziarat Kaka Sahib, which was attended by people in large number, including former federal minister Mian Muzaffar Shah, adviser to Chief Minister and MPA Khaliqur Rehman, other political figures and government officials. Mian Jamsheduddin was first elected to the KP Assembly in the 2013 general elections on a PTI ticket and had served as provincial minister for excise and taxation. He was again elected as MPA in the 2018 general elections.

He also twice served as Nazim of Union Council Ziarat Kaka Sahib.

Meanwhile, two more MPAs from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly also tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Both the lawmakers belong to the Awami National Party (ANP).

The ANP identified them as Faisal Zeb Khan and Salahuddin Khan.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2020