The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday approved a booster shot of Covid-19 vaccines for healthcare workers, immunocompromised people and those aged over 50 years, while discussing the spread of the new coronavirus variant Omicron across the world.
Although the statement issued by the NCOC did not say which Covid-19 vaccine would be administered as booster shots, it did say that the shots would be free and administered six months after the last vaccine dose.
During its meeting today, the forum discussed epidemic curve chart data for Pakistan, the national vaccine strategy and disease prevalence across the country.
It also discussed cities' progress in vaccinating their residents against Covid-19.
The forum stressed that the Omicron variant was spreading fast globally and the only protection against it was vaccination.
Subsequently, the NCOC decided to take strict measures to enforce the "obligatory vaccination regime" from December 1 (today) and directed the provinces and authorities to adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding its implementation.
The forum was informed that 40 call centres have been established across the country to contact those who have not yet received their second doses. The number of call centres would be increased in the future.
Provincial health ministers and chief secretaries gave presentations during the meeting, highlighting initiatives taken to boost the vaccination campaign, improve testing numbers and establish call centres.
"All provinces will start vaccination outreach campaigns immediately to [achieve] the vaccination targets," the statement added.
During the meeting, representatives from provinces stressed on the need to focus on the Omicron variant and take necessary measures at airports for checking the vaccination status as well as testing of travellers.
Sindh introduces new curbs
A day earlier, Sindh government has issued new guidelines to curb the transmission of Covid-19 in view of the threat posed by Omicron.
The new guidelines will be applicable across the province from Dec 1 to Dec 15.
The notification stated that Karachi Division, Sukkur and Sanghar have been categorised as having "good vaccination progress" while the remaining cities/divisions fall under the "low vaccination progress" category.
Covid-19 restrictions in Sindh:
- Indoor, outdoor gatherings allowed for vaccinated individuals. For Karachi, Sukkur and Sanghar the limit is 500 people for indoor events and 1,000 for outdoor. For the rest of the province, it is 300 people for indoor and 1,000 for outdoor.
- Indoor dining allowed for vaccinated people till 11:59pm with 70pc occupancy for Karachi, Sukkur, and Sanghar and 50pc for the rest of the province.
- Outdoor dining is allowed for fully vaccinated citizens till 11:59pm.
- Markets and businesses can function till 10pm while essential services can operate 24/7.
- Shrines, indoor gyms and cinemas are open for fully vaccinated individuals.
- 100pc attendance at offices with routine timings.
- Amusement parks and swimming pools will operate at 70pc occupancy in Karachi, Sukkur and Sanghar and 50pc for the rest of the province.
Planning Minister and head of the NCOC Asad Umar had warned on Monday that the Omicron variant will inevitably come to Pakistan and the country has only a few weeks to contain its threat.
"This [strain] has to spread in the whole world as we saw before that when a variant comes, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop it," the minister said, adding that vaccination was the most logical solution to curb the threat.
He said the initial information the government had received was that although Omicron was a "very dangerous" variant, vaccination will be effective against it.
Separately, the Sindh government had asked the Centre to provide the province with 100,000 doses of Pfizer, 500,000 doses of Moderna and 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca so it could offer booster shots free of cost.
Prior to that, the Sindh health department had decided to inoculate all people with a booster shot of Pfizer keeping in view the increased risk of transmission and re-infection posed by Omicron.