PM, wife contract Covid as positivity rate tops 9pc

Published March 21, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan and first lady Bushra Bibi have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. — Photo: Twitter
Prime Minister Imran Khan and first lady Bushra Bibi have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. — Photo: Twitter
(Clockwise) Shops in a wholesale market of Peshawar are seen closed on Saturday as part of the standard operating procedures to halt spread of the coronavirus. Customers gather in front of shops at Karachi Company Market in Islamabad in violation of smart lockdown. A student leaves his school in Abbottabad after four students and teachers tested positive for coronavirus forcing the district administration to close down the institution until April 7. — Shahbaz Butt / White Star / Online
(Clockwise) Shops in a wholesale market of Peshawar are seen closed on Saturday as part of the standard operating procedures to halt spread of the coronavirus. Customers gather in front of shops at Karachi Company Market in Islamabad in violation of smart lockdown. A student leaves his school in Abbottabad after four students and teachers tested positive for coronavirus forcing the district administration to close down the institution until April 7. — Shahbaz Butt / White Star / Online

• Modi sends best wishes to Imran
• Ministers dispel impression vaccine caused infection
• No vaccinations on Sundays, national holidays
• Pakistan Day parade to go ahead

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan’s national positivity ratio surpassed nine per cent, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday became the latest head of government in the world to contract Covid-19.

His wife Bushra Bibi also tested positive for the virus.

It was decided that the staff of Prime Minister Office and contacts of the premier would be tested under the contact-tracing policy.

During the last 24 hours, the country saw the highest number of positive cases since July with 3,876 people getting infected.

Social media was abuzz throughout the day with the news of the prime minister testing positive for the novel coronavirus, triggering a debate on the effectiveness of the vaccine which he had received two days ago.

Mr Khan’s diagnosis was confirmed by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan in a tweet.

“PM Imran Khan has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self isolating at home,” he tweeted.

Later, it was revealed that Bus­hra Bibi, the prime minister’s spo­use, had also contracted the virus.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari tweeted, “Wishing our First Lady & PM @ImranKhanPTI a speedy recovery. May Allah give them both shifa.”

Senator Faisal Javed confirmed that the first couple had been infected.

On the international front, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, interestingly, became the first leader to wish Mr Khan.

The news stirred a debate on social media and within a couple of minutes, #ImranKhan became the top trend.

PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi, in a video statement, said the timing of the prime minister’s vaccination and the vaccine’s efficacy had raised questions.

He urged the government to share details of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

On the other hand, Ministry of National Health Services spokesperson Sajid Shah said Dr Faisal Sultan had a meeting with Prime Minister Khan and would share details soon.

Cabinet members also came forward on social media to clarify that Mr Khan had not been infected by the vaccine.

“May Allah protect him and give him shifa. Some people questioning the efficacy of vaccination since he was vaccinated Thursday evening. The symptoms take a few days before manifesting. Hence it is certain that PM had been infected PRIOR to vaccination. So please do vaccinate,” Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar tweeted.

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar further clarified in his tweet that “the vaccine develops more than 80% immunity two weeks after the second injection. Furthermore, No cabinet minister, including the Prime-Minister, nor any of their relatives jumped the queue or violated the priority order to receive the vaccine.”

PTI leader Dr Shahbaz Gill also urged people in his tweet not to link PM Khan’s positive test with the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s scheduled live interaction with the public on Sunday (today) has been postponed.

“Due to PM Imran Khan testing positive for Covid-19, New Date for Live interaction with Public will be announced soon. Lots of prayers for everyone and PM Imran Khan. May ALLAH help him recover soon,” Senator Faisal Javed tweeted.

Talking to Dawn, Member of the federal government’s Scientific Task Force on Covid-19 Dr Javed Akram said it was not uncommon for people to get infected just after vaccination.

“However it has nothing to do with the vaccine. I believe the premier was already infected but did not show symptoms as the incubation period of the virus is seven to 10 days. It will be next to impossible to test and trace from whom PM Khan contracted the virus as the positivity rate has reached around 10pc in Pakistan and over 3,000 people are getting infected daily,” he said.

Dr Akram, who is also the vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences (UHS), said there was another misconception that people developed protection from the virus soon after getting the vaccine.

“The fact is that antibodies start developing five to seven days after getting the first shot of the vaccine. After two weeks, antibodies reach the protective level but it takes 28 days to reach the optimum level. Despite that it cannot be said that a person has become fully protected from the virus as no vaccine has 100pc efficacy. Around 80pc efficacy rate means that a person, despite vaccination, can be infected with the virus but he/she will develop minor symptoms and there will be fewer chances of death,” he added.

When asked whether a person can be infected by the vaccine, he said at present, three types of vaccines were being used globally but not a single one could infect a person.

“Inactivated vaccines do not have transmission potential. While we were doing trial of Chinese vaccine Cansino Bio at UHS Lahore, as many as 112 volunteers developed Covid-19 but it did not mean that they were infected due to the vaccine. All of them were already infected, which is why we have decided to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests before administering the vaccine during the new trial,” said Dr Akram, who supervised the clinical trial of Cansino at UHS and is the national principal investigator of clinical trial of another Chinese company Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy Co. Ltd’s vaccine in Pakistan.

Replying to a question, he said the second jab was given three weeks after the first shot, but this would not be the case with the prime minister now.

“Mr Khan will have to wait for 12 days or until his result is found negative. Then he will have to wait for another six weeks and get a second shot,” he said.

Dr Akram said a comprehensive mechanism of contact tracing was already in place and all contacts of the prime minister would be tested as per policy.

Highest number of positive cases

According to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) data, 3,876 cases and 42 deaths were reported in a single day, the highest since July 2020.

As many as 4,087 cases had surfaced on July 3 last year, with the highest number ever reported in the country being on June 14, 2020 when 6,825 people were infected in a single day.

The data further showed that 277 patients were on ventilators while the number of active cases, which was around 16,000 in January, was 29,576 as of March 20.

Overall, 2,657 patients are under treatment in hospitals throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Faisal Sultan, in a presser, said Prime Minister Khan had mild symptoms and was in good spirits.

“The prime minister has isolated himself and is taking rest at home. We are monitoring parameters of his health and at present he does not need a direct intervention,” he said.

On March 18, the prime minister received a shot of coronavirus vaccine and tested positive two days later, which generated a lot of discussion on social media, he said.

“We need to understand how the vaccines work and how much time they take to show efficacy,” the PM’s aide said, adding that the vaccines did not show efficacy immediately and start developing immunity in two to three weeks.

The special assistant said it was possible that the prime minister had the virus days before he took the vaccine shot.

He said people who had come in contact with PM Khan would be traced and asked to isolate themselves.

“I myself will isolate at home for a few days,” he added.

He said the new wave of coronavirus had hit the country and the average rate of contraction was more than 9pc with some cities even recording 10pc.

“As a result, there is immense burden on hospitals of Punjab and Islamabad. We had announced restrictions a few days ago but the administration is weak across the country. People should avoid crowded places, wear masks and strictly adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he said.

People who are more than 60 years of age should get themselves registered and vaccinated, he added.

Dr Sultan said some variants of virus from South Africa and South America were arriving therefore travel restrictions were being imposed.

“Vaccines are being procured. We will get two consignments by the end of the current month. However, I urge people to hold social functions with simplicity and have smaller gathering,” he said.

Pakistan Day Parade

Minister for Planning Asad Umar told Dawn that there was no plan to cancel or limit the Pakistan Day Parade.

“We have already discussed all arrangements and SOPs during the parade and it will be held with the usual zeal. However, we have observed that the provincial administrative units and Islamabad are not enforcing the SOPs strictly, therefore, they have all been directed to ensure their implementation,” he said.

Meanwhile, rumours were making rounds that Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had announced complete lockdown in the federal capital.

In a video statement, the minister denied that he had announced a complete lockdown from Monday.

“I said that the NCOC can impose smart lockdowns in affected areas. It is the job of the NCOC to announce lockdowns and not of the interior ministry,” he said.

The NCOC has also announced that all vaccination centres across the country would remain closed on Sundays and national holidays like March 23 to provide relief to vaccine administrators and frontline healthcare workers (FLHCWs) who had been working tirelessly in this time of crisis.

“NCOC appreciates the efforts of all federating units for management of the massive vaccination drive across the country and salutes the FLHCWs especially those involved in the ongoing vaccination drive,” it stated.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Dr Qaisar Sajjad Secretary General, while talking to Dawn, said a vaccination centre for Covid-19 had been established at the PMA House Karachi and would remain open from 10am to 4pm.

“Doctors and their spouses, even if they are not healthcare workers, can be vaccinated at the centre which has been established with the permission of the Sindh government,” he said.

Modi wishes Imran

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday wished Prime Minister Imran Khan a speedy recovery after the latter tested positive for novel coronavirus.

“Best wishes to Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI for a speedy recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Modi tweeted hours after Mr Khan’s special assistant on health Dr Faisal Sultan announced that the prime minister had contracted the infection.

The message from the Indian prime minister, although a diplomatic norm, took many observers by a surprise because of the high level of tensions that had marred bilateral relations, especially for the past year and a half. Neither Mr Modi nor any senior government official during this period publicly exchanged goodwill messages with their Pakistani counterparts.

Pakistan was also the only country in the region not to request for AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India. New Delhi, as part of its vaccine diplomacy, sent coronavirus vaccines as grant assistance to the neighbouring countries.

Mr Modi’s message on Mr Khan’s illness has come in the backdrop of agreement between the two countries on resuming ceasefire and the peace gestures extended to India by the Pakistani prime minister and army chief during their public statements at the Islamabad Security Dialogue this week.

Many believe that a back channel has lately been active between the two countries. They point to the reduction in rhetoric from both capitals to back their claim.

The other regional leaders to greet Mr Khan, till the filing of the report, were Chairman of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“My best wishes & prayers to Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan HE @ImranKhanPTI for a full and speedy recovery from COVID-19,” the former Afghan chief executive said.

“Wishing Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI a speedy and full recovery! Our thoughts and prayers are with him during this time of difficulty,” Prime Minister Rajapaksa tweeted.

Foreign missions in Islamabad also sent in their wishes for the prime minister.

The foreign envoys who wished the prime minister included British High Commissioner Christian Turner, Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong, Australian High Commissioner Dr Geoffrey Shaw, Swiss Ambassador Bénédict de Cerjat, EU envoy Androulla Kaminara and German Ambassador Bernhard Schlagheck. The US embassy also tweeted a message on behalf of the American mission.

Baqir Sajjad Syed also contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2021

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