Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said on Monday that the government aimed to inoculate as many people as possible by July, which would enable it to not impose difficult restrictions at the time of Eidul Azha.
Addressing a media briefing after a session of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), Umar said that seven million vaccines had been administered in Pakistan so far with 5.2m to 5.3m people vaccinated and the eventual goal by the year's end was to reach 70m people.
"According to our figures, more than 7m vaccine doses have been administered and some 5.2 to 5.3m people are included in this who have been vaccinated," he said.
The federal minister said the target by the year's end was to inoculate 70m people across Pakistan with a particular emphasis on achieving vaccination rates at a sufficiently high level in June and July so that strict and difficult restrictions would not be required before Eidul Azha as had been placed on Eidul Fitr.
He added that the federal government had arranged more than 10m vaccines for this with much more to follow. "Just in the month of June we will have more than 10m vaccines and then in July a further 10m," he said, adding that availability of vaccines had now been ensured despite it still being a issue in some countries.
"The NCOC (National Command and Operation Centre) has worked in coordination with the provinces and the provinces have considerably increased their capacity at vaccination centres," said the federal minister, crediting it as the reason behind Pakistan's inoculation boost from a few hundred at the start to 383,000 administrations the day before yesterday.
"We want to more than double this figure," said Umar, while stressing the need to further increase vaccination capacity in the provinces and federal territories due to complaints regarding extended waiting times in some vaccination centres of urban centres.
Speaking about the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the country, the federal minister said the strict but "timely decision" by the government to impose a lockdown in the last week of Ramazan and for Eidul Fitr had produced results and the spread of the disease had not only been stemmed but was seen to be continuously decreasing.
He stressed, however, that the virus not been eliminated and that there was still a need to exercise caution since it was present at a "high level". He added that it had come quite far below the previous high — the positivity rate had decreased from 10 to 11 per cent to around 4.5pc in the previous week. Umar noted, however, that the spread of Covid-19 was still more prevalent in Sindh so there was need for more caution.
The federal minister next addressed how to get out of the situation, saying that while the presence of a strong system and the NCOC had helped Pakistan avert the kind of situation seen in other countries particularly India, the restrictions were still there. Restrictions, he said, were a means of defence but vaccinations were the actual means to get out of the situation.
"We are seeing positive effects in the countries where a lot of vaccines have been administered and the positivity rate has come down and they're going towards improvement so we have to do this similarly in Pakistan as well."
The federal minister said that previously, the government had been following the whole-of-government approach where government institutions had been working to tackle the disease but the next stage would be a "whole-of-nation approach where the whole nation would work together."
He said there was need for the nation to unite on the vaccination process as it had acted on precautions and standard operating procedures. Umar emphasised that the federal government would continue to provide free vaccines for all people who were eligible for vaccinations, but a big campaign would soon be launched to extend the vaccine's reach to the people.
The federal minister said that multiple stakeholders would be taken on board for the campaign such as media owners, anchors, business institutions, overseas investors, journalists' organisations, bar councils, state-owned enterprises and private sector institutions to disseminate messaging about vaccines, inoculate their employees and eventually see how they could help in reaching the common person.
He added that religious scholars also played an important role in this regard and the president would soon hold a meeting with them to also spread the message to the people to take care of their health.
Umar said Pakistan's approach to tackling the coronavirus had been recognised and praised by the world while side-by-side keeping the economy and livelihoods afloat and now the government wanted to take similar exemplary action for the vaccination process.
"We want that restrictions are completely finished, businesses open up, there are no negative effects on anyone's livelihood and we can go towards a normal life. Today's NCC [meeting] has given approval for all this strategy," said Umar, adding however that the success of the strategy was not contingent on the NCC's decision but on the nation's approval and participation.