New curbs for unvaccinated people from today

Published September 1, 2021
Railway employees and passengers queue to get inoculated with a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine outside a vaccination centre set up at a railway station in Lahore. — AFP
Railway employees and passengers queue to get inoculated with a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine outside a vaccination centre set up at a railway station in Lahore. — AFP

• Inoculation of citizens over 17 years starts
• Booster shots available for people travelling abroad
• Record 1.4m doses administered in one day
• Pakistan concerned over its presence on UK’s red list

ISLAMABAD: The government will be putting in place a number of restrictions on unvaccinated people from Wednesday (today) as the country reported over 100 Covid-19 deaths for the fourth time in about three weeks.

In another development, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) will begin vaccinating people over 17 years of age and administering booster shots to those intending to travel abroad from Wednesday (today).

On the other hand, a record number of over 1.4 million doses were given in a single day throughout the country.

Moreover, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has expressed concerns over the continued placement of Pakistan on the red list by the United Kingdom despite the fact that no Beta variant case was detected in August and the overall number of patients and positivity ratio was much lower in Pakistan compared to countries like Iran and Iraq, which continued to remain on the amber list.

According to the NCOC data, 3,838 people contracted the virus and 118 patients lost their lives during the last 24 hours. It was the fourth time in 20 days when Pakistan recorded over 100 deaths in a day. Earlier, 102 casualties were reported on Aug 11, 141 on Aug 24 and 120 on Aug 27.

It is worth mentioning here that on Aug 24, the government decided to reduce the minimum age for Covid-19 vaccination from 18 years to 15 years and had announced that it would start inoculating citizens over the age of 17 from Sept 1.

A number of other decisions had also been taken, which would make it difficult for people to stay unvaccinated by mid October.

Talking to Dawn, the NHS ministry spokesperson, Sajid Shah, said individuals over 17 years would have to get one dose by Sept 15 and be fully vaccinated by Oct 15 otherwise they would not be allowed to enter educational institutions.

He said those who were immune compromised and over the age of 12 could get the jabs at selected vaccination centres after they showed their medical record, advising parents to ensure that their children received the vaccines.

“From Wednesday (today) at least partially vaccinated transporters will be allowed to pick and drop students and from Sept 30 onwards, only fully vaccinated people will be able to continue their transport business that catered to students and other school-related supplies,” Mr Shah said.

Similarly, he said, partially vaccinated people could enter and work in shopping malls but they would have to be fully vaccinated by Sept 30, which was the cut-off date for them.

He said air travel restrictions were already in place since the start of August, and people who were at least partially vaccinated could undertake domestic air travel.

“However, after Sept 30, only fully vaccinated people would be allowed domestic and international air travel, and this restriction would be for both inbound and outbound travelers,” the spokesperson said.

Similarly, in order to travel on trains and buses and use highways and motorways, citizens will have to be partially vaccinated by Sept 15 and completely inoculated by Oct 15.

He said vaccines were available and thousands of vaccination centres had been opened, so “we cannot allow anyone to play with the health of vulnerable people”.

The spokesperson said booster shots would also be available from Sept 1 to those planning to travel abroad.

“But, since a booster dose was a travel requirement and not a health-related necessity, Rs1,270 would be charged for each dose,” Mr Shah said, adding that an app could be downloaded to get a vaccination pass as well as proof that the person was vaccinated.

Record doses given in one day

The NCOC on Tuesday announced that a record number of doses – 1,405,352 – were given across the country on Aug 30, after which the tally of doses so far administered had risen to 55,178,137.

Sharing the information on his twitter handle, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said: “New daily vaccination rate record set yesterday with total vaccinations exceeding 1.4 million. With the expanded vaccine obligatory regime going into effect by September 1, now is the time to get vaccinated if you still have not been.”

In another tweet, the minister said: “Chairing NCOC since March 2020 and having the opportunity to work with the amazing team at NCOC has been a great honour and privilege for me. The dedication, commitment, patriotism and professionalism can compare well with the best in the world. #WellDoneNCOC.”

Pakistan on red list

The NHS ministry has shown its concerns over the decision of the British government to keep Pakistan on the red list.

Spokesperson Sajid Shah said on Aug 27, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) issued a note about travel restrictions between the UK and Pakistan.

Mr Shah said Pakistan was undoubtedly going through its fourth wave as mentioned in the note which referred to the country’s official data that was predominantly made up of Delta (Indian) variant cases.

“The Beta cases mentioned were sequenced in samples taken between April 9 and July 7, 2021. None of the Beta variant cases in question were detected in August 2021,” he said, adding that the overall number of cases and positivity ratio was much lower in Pakistan compared to countries such as Iran and Iraq, which continued to be on the amber list.

“The total number of active cases is 94,573 in Pakistan, 132,699 in Iraq and 678,188 in Iran. As of Aug 26, the seven-day rolling average of the positivity ratio was 6.9pc in Pakistan, 18.1pc in Iraq and 32.7pc in Iran,” the ministry spokesperson said.

He said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had already suggested three measures – mandatory vaccination of a WHO-approved vaccine (with a verifiable certificate that links up to a government site), a PCR test 72 hours prior to travel and a pre-board rapid antigen test.

“These three measures, if properly implemented, will reduce the likelihood of travellers carrying the virus to fractional numbers,” Mr Shah said. “This focused approach in ensuring a virus-free traveller will be far more efficient at ensuring the true absence of infection in each traveller rather than aiming to measure the disease status in a country of over 220 million individuals and using that as a loose proxy for the likelihood of infection transmission,” he added.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2021

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