• Allows ministry to seek extension in debt relief from G20
• 2,738 new infections, 36 deaths reported
ISLAMABAD: The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Friday approved, in principle, a $150 million supplementary grant to procure anti-Covid vaccine.
The committee also allowed the Ministry of Economic Affairs to formally request G20 countries for extension in Covid-19-related debt relief involving about $900m for January-June 2021 period, in addition to an existing facility of about $1.8 billion relief for a period up to Dec 2020.
These decisions were taken during the ECC meeting which was presided over by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. Besides Dr Shaikh, only three other members attended the meeting. Those who participated were Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtiar and Adviser to the PM on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Ishrat Hussain. Special Assistant to PM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar and the prime minister’s aide on revenue, Dr Waqar Masood, attended on special invitation.
Acting on the National Command and Operation Centre’s decision, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) sought a technical supplementary grant of $150 million for Covax (Covid Vaccine) out of the funds reserved for Covid-19 relief measures.
It was argued that funds would be needed to book requisite doses of Covax for about 10 million people in the first and second quarter of 2021. Subject to certification by WHO/FDA, it would be made available to frontline workers, including health and non-health, prioritised by exposure, risk and age above 65 years.
It had also demanded the federal government to underwrite the inherent risk of losing any advance payment for procurement of Covax in case of failure of any phase-III trials of the contracted manufacturing firms. This was because Pakistan has to compete internationally to secure the vaccine on priority as other countries were ‘rapidly placing advance orders’.
At the same time since these vaccines are still in phase-III trial, there was a risk of losing advance payment if the trials fail to reach the required standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Drug Administration of the USA (FDA).
The ECC evaluated the proposal and “approved, in principle, the provision of technical supplementary grant of $150 million for the purchase of the Covid-19 vaccine”, an official statement said.
It also directed the NHS ministry to draw a holistic proposal regarding the pricing and risk mitigation mechanism for procurement of the vaccine for provision on a wider scale, in consultation with the stakeholders.
The health ministry briefed the ECC, saying it would be the first phase of procurement and the quantity would suffice for the most vulnerable five per cent of the population i.e. health workers and those above 65 years of age.
The ECC also directed the NHS ministry to discuss the proposal with the World Bank and other donors in coordination with the Economic Affairs Division so that they could assist in providing financial facility for the procurement of the vaccine during the first phase and additional quantities in future as per requirement.
The meeting was informed that the NHS ministry had approached Gavi — a Geneva-based global public-private partnership on vaccines — to secure Covax free of cost or at subsidised rates for about 20pc of the population for which Pakistan is eligible.
However, the facility was likely to become available in the latter half of 2021. Covax facility also offers support in the delivery and supply chain management of vaccines through alternative means including existing mechanism like cash grant, cold chain equipment operation plan and technical assistance.
Punjab, Sindh ban indoor events
Punjab and Sindh have announced a complete ban on indoor marriage ceremonies in view of the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
According to the National Command and Operation Centre, 2,738 people tested positive during the last 24 hours with 36 deaths.
The total number of active cases in the country at present is 33,562 and the number of deaths stands at 7,561. The highest number of active patients is in Punjab which has 16,297, followed by Sindh with 14,470, Islamabad, 6,153; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 4,269; Azad Kashmir, 818; Balochistan 704 and Gilgit-Baltistan, 198 cases.
The centre said 327,542 patients have so far recovered from the virus, adding that 230 patients were on ventilators. Azad Kashmir and Balochistan have none on ventilators.
According to officials, the highest occupancy rate of ventilators was recorded in Multan at 74 per cent followed by 19 per cent in Lahore, 17 per cent in Faisalabad, 14 per cent, Rawalpindi; 10 per cent, Karachi and three per cent in Muzaffarabad.
The Punjab government’s Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department has issued an order, detailing new restrictions on public gatherings and weddings in the province.
The restrictions will remain in force till Jan 31 next year. The order prohibited indoor weddings and all types of largescale gatherings. Only outdoor marriage ceremonies with a maximum of 300 guests will be permitted. It will be mandatory for everyone to wear masks in public places.
In Karachi, Commissioner Iftikhar Shalwani announced fresh guidelines for wedding halls and banquets after a meeting with representatives of Wedding Halls and Banquets Association.
As per the guidelines, no more than 300 guests will be allowed, standard operating procedures will be followed and 40 per cent of the hall ceilings will have to be kept open to allow ventilation.
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser summoned a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of the National Assembly on Covid-19 on Nov 25 in the Parliament House to devise a strategy on holding the next session of the lower house under the prevailing coronavirus situation.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2020