• One million doses of Covid-19 vaccine arrive from China
• Inbound flights curtailed to stop transportation of Indian variant
• 5,480 cases, 151 deaths reported in single day
• Permission granted for import of 6,000 tonnes oxygen, 5,000 cylinders
ISLAMABAD: With over 5,000 more people infected with coronavirus over the past 24 hours, Pakistan on Thursday decided to curtail inbound passenger flights to stop transportation of Indian ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant.
As another one million doses of Sinopharm arrived from China, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has decided to start vaccination of people aged over 40 years from May 3.
Import permission for 6,000 tonnes of oxygen and 5,000 oxygen cylinders has been granted to ramp up healthcare facilities in the country. Scrap industry of Misri Shah, Lahore, is being closed for diverting oxygen to the healthcare sector.
According to the NCOC data, 5,480 cases and 151 deaths were reported in a single day. While 689 ventilators were in use, 6,327 patients were admitted to hospitals across the country. The number of active cases reached 89,838 on Thursday.
A meeting of the NCOC chaired by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar decided to commence vaccination of citizens aged between 40 and 49 years from May 3.
Mr Umar said in a tweet that over 100,000 persons had been vaccinated on the second consecutive day on Thursday.
“In view of the surge in global virus spread, it is decided to curtail inbound passenger flights to Pakistan from May 5 to 20. These restrictions will be reviewed on May 18. However, detailed instructions will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority,” said a statement issued by the NCOC.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be quoted, said the decision to reduce international flights was taken to stop possible transportation of the Indian virus.
“So far not a single case of Indian double mutant virus has been reported in Pakistan. We have been continuously doing genetic sequencing of the samples and trying to keep the virus at bay. A large number of people come to Pakistan to observe Eid with their loved ones so we have decided to limit the international flights,” he said.
According to the statement, the NCOC also reviewed the production and supply of oxygen. “It is decided to grant import permission of 6,000 tonnes of oxygen and 5,000 oxygen cylinders to ramp up healthcare facilities in the country. Import permission of 20 cryogenic tanks was also granted. It is also decided to close scrap industry of Misri Shah for diverting oxygen to healthcare sector,” it stated.
“The forum emphasised the need for adopting ‘stay home, stay safe’ strategy during Eid holidays. In this regard comprehensive guidelines on closure of markets (with exemptions), ban on intercity and intra-city public transport and tourism have been issued to the ministries concerned,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine reached Pakistan from China on Thursday.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Faisal Sultan told Reuters that Pakistan had purchased 13 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from three Chinese companies. The purchased vaccine is expected to begin arriving in May with 6.7m doses and the rest in June.
Dr Sultan didn’t give a breakdown of how many shots each were supplying, saying there could be some plus and minus for each given the pressure on the companies.
“We will be continuously procuring from all available sources across the world,” he said. “For now, China remains the primary source for vaccines to meet our present and ongoing needs but all our options are open for effective and safe vaccines.”
Dr Sultan said the first tranche of Gavi/Covax programme that was due early March would also be arriving to add to the latest procurement. “We are likely to get around 2.4 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine under Gavi/Covax over the period of May and June,” he said, adding that “the possible source for this initial tranche may be South Korea”.
The NCOC issued guidelines, asking people to stay home during Eidul Fitr holidays from May 10 to 15. “All markets, businesses and shops will remain closed, except essential services such as grocery stores, medical stores, hospitals, vaccination centres, vegetable, fruit and meat shops, bakeries, petrol pumps, food takeaways and media houses,” it said.
There will be ban on Chand Raat bazaars, including mehndi, jewellery/ornaments and clothing stalls. There will be complete ban on tourism for both locals and outsiders. All tourist resorts, formal and informal picnic spots, public parts, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants at picnic places will remain closed during Eid holidays.
There will be ban on interprovincial, intercity and intra-city public transport. Private vehicles, taxies/cabs and rickshaws will operate at 50 per cent occupancy.
Electronic media has been advised to run movies, dramas and shows to keep people at home. Moreover, uninterrupted supply of electricity will be ensured during Eid holidays.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2021