Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed authorities to ensure strict implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and undertake all required administrative actions to implement the strategy of smart lockdown to curtail the spread of coronavirus during Eid al-Adha. He said this during a visit to National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on the occasion of completion of 100 days of its establishment. The prime minister lauded the efforts of NCOC team in putting up a robust response to the pandemic and ensuring co-ordinated actions throughout the country against coronavirus pandemic. He also acknowledged the role and services of healthcare workers, emergency responders and management from all the provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Imran Khan appreciated the resilience and adaptability of the nation to adjust to the new normal by following SOPs and face the challenge of Covid-19 as one nation. During the visit, the prime minister was informed as to how the strategy of smart lockdown has yielded results in balancing life and livelihood, keeping the economy afloat and addressing the issues of the poor and working class while containing the disease. Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on National Health Services, Dr Zafar Mirza, has appreciated the efforts of frontline health workers and medical staff in the fight against Covid-19. During a visit to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, he said the government is pursuing a holistic strategy to combat the coronavirus with the support of nation, doctors and paramedics. Mirza said we have made the best sovereign decisions in the best interest of our people with robust national coordination and decision-making mechanism in the national interest. He said the government has gradually eased lockdown, but at the same time it has focused on the enforcement of Covid-19 SOPs. The special assistant to PM said the government established the NCOC under the auspices of National Coordination Committee on Covid-19 which takes a holistic view of the situation in coordination with the provinces.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Authority Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has suspended with “immediate effect” television channel 24NewsHD’s licence for “illegal transmission of news and current affairs content”. According to a press release issued by the regulatory authority, the channel Value TV – for which the licence was issued to Central Media Network Pvt – had “illegally” changed its name to 24NewsHD. The channel was granted the licence to air entertainment content but instead it was “persistently illegally and unlawfully airing news and current affairs in continuous violation of the Pemra laws”, the statement read. The regulatory body said it issued a show-cause notice to the channel for violating the terms of its licence and directed it to “revert back to its approved programming content” on May 7, 2020. However, the channel “failed to adhere to the directions of the authority despite several notices and opportunities of hearing provided [to them]”, according to the statement. The Pemra, therefore, suspended the channel’s licence with “immediate effect till the time it reverts back to its original programming mix”. Yesterday Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for the TV channel’s suspension, saying that he is targeting those “channels, media houses, journalists and owners who spoke the truth”. In a tweet, she condemned the suspension and demanded the channel’s “immediate resumption”. “Taking channel 24 off the air without hearing its stance is oppressive and unjust. Imran’s government is cutting the very shoulders on which it came to power,” she said. She claimed that the government had a “problem with all those institutions and people who criticised it”. “Heavy-handed tactics are at their peak during this government. Mir Shakeelur Rehman’s wrongful arrest, banning channel 24, and restricting the writings and programmes of various journalists prove that this government is not democratic,” she said. Aurangzeb claimed that the government is “increasing unemployment amid the coronavirus after destroying the media industry”, adding that the suspension of the channel’s licence would add to the “tsunami of unemployment”.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has underlined that India’s policies are putting peace in the region in peril. He told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over the phone that apart from alleged violations of human rights in Indian-administered Kashmir, India is seeking to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory. Qureshi briefed Wang that in the face of Indian actions on the Line of Control (LoC), Pakistan is exercising restraint. He underscored that disputes in the region should be resolved through peaceful means. He reiterated that Pakistan firmly supports China on its core interests, including that of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Briefing Qureshi about the regional situation, Wang lauded Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace and stability in the region. He also thanked Pakistan for the support it has extended to China in difficult times. Both sides reaffirmed their resolve to support each other at the multilateral institutions and hoped that those institutions would foster a spirit of objectivity and coherence in advancing their goals. The two ministers expressed determination to promote peace and development in Afghanistan. Pakistan and China have also reaffirmed the resolve to take measures aimed at earliest possible economic recovery in the aftermath of Covid-19. Qureshi also said that the recent attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi was supported by anti-Pakistan elements seeking to undermine Pakistan’s stability and economic development. He said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will become the hub of trade, economic activity, and greater people-to-people exchanges. Wang said that the CPEC is a flagship project of Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and that the second phase of the CPEC will complement Pakistan’s efforts at job creation, poverty alleviation, and economic recovery. He emphasised that, in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing is taking swift and practical measures to promote economic recovery in the region.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been moved to the Rawalpindi Military Hospital, local media reported yesterday, citing sources. A day earlier the foreign minister announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and had gone into isolation. “This afternoon I felt a slight fever and immediately quarantined myself at home. I have now tested positive for Covid-19,” the minister had said in a Twitter post. The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus. “By the grace of Allah, I feel strong and energetic. I will continue to carry on my duties from home. Please keep me in your prayers,” he added. Yesterday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian wished Qureshi a quick recovery from the illness. “Please stay safe. I wish you a quick recovery,” he tweeted. Qureshi joins a long list of lawmakers who have contracted the virus. Two weeks ago, Muttahida Qaumi Movement – Pakistan (MQM-P) leader and Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Syed Aminul Haq tested positive for the coronavirus, while a week before that Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said she had tested positive. Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member of the National Assembly (MNA) Jai Prakash, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Minister of State for Narcotics Shehryar Afridi, and the PTI’s chief whip in the National Assembly Aamir Dogar have also been diagnosed with Covid-19. Many politicians, including the Awami National Party (ANP)’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, and Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohamed Mazari, had tested positive for the coronavirus, after which they went into self-isolation and recovered. PTI Member of Punjab Assembly Shaheen Raza was the first lawmaker in the country to succumb to Covid-19. PTI member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) Mian Jamsheduddin Kakakhel from Nowshera and PML-N MPA Shaukat Manzoor Cheema from Gujranwala also passed away last month.
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar has expressed satisfaction that better compliance of standard operating procedures (SOPs) by the people has helped check the spread of the coronavirus in the country. Briefing media persons at National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) in Islamabad yesterday, he pointed out that the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals yesterday were less than those which were in the midst of June. The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus. Similarly, there is reduction in the number of deaths as well as the patients on ventilators and oxygen. The minister stressed that the situation could further improve if the people continue to follow the precautionary measures. He appreciated the efforts put in by the administration and provincial governments to ensure compliance of the SOPs. Umar said however that while the country’s overall coronavirus situation is getting better, there is a significant lack of improvement in Sindh, particularly in the provincial capital Karachi. “There is only one area where we are not seeing that much improvement, which is in Sindh, especially Karachi,” he said. Umar maintained that to address this, the NCOC team held a meeting with the provincial chief secretary and the provincial health minister and is working on a way to replicate the results from the rest of the country in Sindh. He also urged citizens to remain mindful of the fact that an improvement is only being seen because the people are following precautionary measures. “Don’t take this to mean that the pandemic is going away on its own and you can do whatever you want,” the minister cautioned, adding that a lapse in following preventative measures could cause the number of cases to rise again. “I had earlier warned that our cases could reach 1.2mn by end July if we don’t take action or follow preventive measures. But because people are following precautionary measures and the administration is also taking action, this number may be less than 400,000.” He concluded the press conference by urging the public to follow doctors’ advice. In light of the recommendations made by the district health officer, certain areas in Karachi were placed under a “smart lockdown” yesterday to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The deputy commissioner of Karachi’s Malir district ordered a lockdown of five days, from July 3-7 in “the large(r) public interest and to prevent/slowdown the spread of deadly coronavirus”. Phases I and II of UC-06, Gulshan-e-Hadeed will be sealed and all commercial markets, shopping malls and superstores and markets in the main streets of the area will remain closed, a notification said. Another notification announced that certain areas of Karachi’s South District will undergo a lockdown until July 16. The areas identified for the lockdown include Clifton, Defence, Lyari, Kharadar and Garden. Moreover, all commercial areas of Khayaban-e-Rahat in Defence will remain completely closed, whereas, as are business centres in Clifton Block 4 and 5. The Bath Island area will undergo a complete lockdown. The areas of Kharadar under lockdown include include Machhi Miani Market and Khori Garden. Dolly Khata, Shoe Market, Hari Masjid and Jilani Masjid areas in Garden West and Bazarta line in Saddar will also be locked down. Under the imposition of the complete lockdown, people will not be allowed to leave their house or roam outdoors without a mask, and will not be permitted to leave the house without a legitimate reason. Only one person in each household will be allowed to buy items for daily use, the notification said.
At least 19 pilgrims of Pakistan's minority Sikh community were killed when a train collided with a passenger van in eastern Pakistan on Friday, officials said. According to police, the dead, which include two children, were all residents of the western Pakistani city of Peshawar, home to most of Pakistan's nearly 40,000 Sikhs. The accident occurred at an unmanned Railway crossing close to the city of Sheikhupura in Pakistan's largest province, Punjab, Pakistan Railways public relations official Quratulain told Reuters. The 19 killed were all passengers seated in the van, travelling from the town of Nankana Sahib to Farooqabad - both sites revered by followers of Sikhism. Sikhs revere Nankana Sahib, located near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, which borders India, as the place their religion began and where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed dismay at the accident in a message on Twitter. As prime minister, Khan has overseen the construction of a special border crossing, called the "Kartarpur corridor", allowing Sikhs from India to visit holy sites in Pakistan, despite continued hostile relations between the two countries. Khan also said Pakistan's railway safety would be reviewed. Pakistan's railways have witnessed a number of accidents over the last few years, including frequent collisions between vehicles and trains. Last year, a fire in a train compartment killed more than 70 passengers. "Investigations are underway to figure out negligence behind it," a district police officer Ghazi Salahuddin told Reuters. Pakistan Railways also said an inquiry had been ordered.
Garrison city Rawalpindi has reported 55 new cases of Covid-19 – the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus – and 80 recoveries. In addition, security personnel have been deployed in eight localities – Gulzar-e-Quaid, Khayaban-e-Sir Syed, Dhoke Ali Akbar, Kotha Kalan, Morgah and Takhtpari, as well as Narankari Bazaar and Bara Market – to enforce a lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus. No deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported in the four main hospitals in Rawalpindi in the past two days. The total number of cases reported in Rawalpindi district has reached 5,815, with 243 dead, and 3,136 recoveries. At present, 2,436 patients in all seven tehsils of the Rawalpindi district are under treatment: 933 admitted to the Rawalpindi Institute of Urology (RIU), Holy Family Hospital (HFH) and Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH), and 1,503 under home isolation. Another 1,739 suspected patients have been admitted to the RIU, the HFH, the BBH and the District Headquarters Hospital, and their samples have been sent to the National Institute of Health, and the HFH and the BBH laboratories for testing. The number of patients in Rawalpindi district is increasing in comparison to other districts in the division. Rawalpindi has reported 5,815 patients in the last four months, while Attock reported 429, Jhelum 381, and Chakwal 220. The district administration has sealed 27 shops because the shop staff were not wearing masks or taking any other precautions. Visitors to markets were also seen violating preventative measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which include wearing masks. Regional Transport Authority (RTA) secretary Mehar Ghulam Abbas inspected bus terminals and public transport vehicles and impounded two vehicles, issued notices to 38 vehicle owners, and imposed Rs45,000 in fines for violations in the district. Commissioner Captain (retired) Mohamed Mehmood has lauded the government’s “smart lockdowns” in the major cities in the province, saying that the measures have brought positive results, with fewer cases reported than in the last month. He said that the provincial government has finalised standard operating procedures (SOPs) for cattle markets ahead of Eid al-Adha so that vendors and buyers of sacrificial animals can practice social distancing. Meanwhile, one Covid-19 patient has died in Islamabad and another 137 people tested positive for the disease. Capital administration officials said that the capital’s death toll has reached 129, with so far 12,912 Covid-19 cases reported in the city. There have been 7,850 recoveries reported so far, bringing active cases to 4,933. The deceased was a woman between the ages of 90 and 99 who lived in I-10 but died outside the capital, officials said. They said that 1,736 tests have been conducted in Islamabad in the last 24 hours. Three people died of Covid-19 in Attock, bringing the total number of fatalities to 20. According to district health authorities, two of the deceased were from Fatehjang tehsil, and one was from Hazro tehsil. They were males aged 63, 41 and 80. One new case was reported in the district; Attock has now reported 429 cases of Covid-19. Attock’s focal person for Covid-19 Dr Asif Arbab Niazi said that the patient is from Attock city. So far, 235 patients have recovered. He said that the test results of 341 suspected patients are being awaited. There are 11 patients being treated in various hospitals while 137 are isolated in their homes. In Taxila, three more cases brought the total to 356. Deputy District Officer Health Dr Sara Qadeer said that all the cases are from urban areas in Wah and are under home isolation. She said that 18 patients have been admitted to local hospitals, with 90 patients having recovered so far. Another 230 patients are isolated in their homes, and health authorities are monitoring their condition, she said. Dr Qadeer said that all the new cases are of local transmission. The last death reported was on June 24.
The Federal cabinet has decided to terminate services of the pilots whose licences were found to be suspicious immediately. Briefing media after the cabinet meeting in Islamabad, Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz disclosed that five employees of CAA have also been grounded till the process is completed. In addition, the CAA has been directed to start further action on fast track basis. He said degrees of all airline staff will be verified. Meeting of the Federal Cabinet was held in Islamabad yesterday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair. The meeting discussed overall political and economic situation in the country. The government has initiated a thorough process of reforms in Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and all airlines of the country to ensure transparency in all procedures and licensing of pilots. The information minister said pilots with dubious credentials have been grounded forthwith. The minister said prime minister strongly believes in meritocracy and transparency in all sectors. Senator Shibli Faraz said the cabinet deliberated on the report of Auditor General and expressed satisfaction that remarkable improvement has been made in procedures during this government. According to a report by Reuters, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is seeking to verify the credentials of Pakistani pilots and engineers employed in its airlines, as global concern mounts after the South Asian government grounded 262 pilots for holding “dubious” qualifications. Pakistan grounded the pilots on June 26 on suspicion that they allegedly falsified their examinations to qualify for flying aircraft. The move followed a preliminary report on an airliner crash in Karachi in May that found the pilots had failed to follow standard procedures and disregarded alarms. Ninety-seven people were killed in that crash. In a letter to Pakistani aviation authorities, the director general of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, Saif Mohamed al-Suwaidi, requested verification of the credentials of Pakistani pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, and flight operations officers working in the Middle Eastern country. Pakistan has a total of 860 pilots, 107 of whom work for foreign airlines, according to the country’s aviation minister. “We would like to request your good offices to verify the licensing credentials of the attached pilots list who are currently holding UAE’s pilots licences based on licences and qualifications issued by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority,” the letter, reviewed by Reuters, said. Pakistan’s aviation ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, which was dated June 29 and addressed the director general of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority Hassan Nasir Jamy. On Tuesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended two Pakistani airlines’ authorisation to fly to the bloc for six months, and a day earlier Vietnam announced that it was grounding all 12 Pakistani pilots working in the country. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured his EU counterpart Josep Borrel in a telephone call yesterday that comprehensive reforms are being brought in the country’s national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). PIA, which is said to have 141 pilots with “dubious” licences, has been the hardest hit by EASA’s suspension. On Friday, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that since late 2018 authorities had been investigating alleged collusion between pilots and civil aviation officials intended to cheat at examinations. The government’s handling of the matter has come in for criticism locally. Opposition lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal said the government has put Pakistan’s entire aviation industry at stake just to cover up regulatory failures highlighted in a preliminary report into the May air crash, that prompted the government to make the list of “dubious” pilots public. However, the government, which came to power in 2018, has defended its actions as being necessary, with Prime Minister Imran Khan blaming previous governments for PIA’s downfall. “It is a complete debacle,” political analyst Zahid Hussain said, adding that the government’s move was aimed at settling political scores. “The issue was badly managed by the government, which is just another example of them doing things first and thinking later”. Pakistani pilots and their union, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), as well as two airlines, say there are discrepancies in the government-prepared list of pilots with licences deemed dubious.
The government of Balochistan province has decided to extend the smart lockdown imposed across the province till July 15, in a bid to stem the coronavirus from spreading as cases continue to surge across the country. As per an official notification by the provincial home department, shopping malls, markets, shops, warehouses, auto-repair shops and hair salons will be allowed to remain open from 9am-7pm from Thursdays to Saturdays. All businesses will remain closed on Fridays. The notification further said that tandoors, shops selling dairy products, blood banks, medical stores and teller shops will be allowed to remain open for 24 hours. Restaurants will be allowed to provide home delivery and take-away services throughout the day as well. Educational institutions throughout Balochistan have been directed to remain closed till July 15. Cinemas, wedding halls, farmhouses and picnic points will remain closed for masses indefinitely. An indefinite ban continues to be placed on gatherings of more than 10 people, political rallies, dharnas, pillion riding, social and religious events. Tenth consignment of safety equipment has been dispatched to Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. According to National Disaster Management Authority, the protective equipment dispatched to Balochistan includes about 122,000 masks, 5,811 safety suits and 32,885 medical gowns. Similarly, 55,950 masks, 3,385 safety suits, and 15,069 medical gowns were sent to Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides, face shields, surgical caps, gloves, plastic boots, shoes cover and protective glasses were also given. The other provinces are also being provided 10th consignment.
For a month, starting mid-May, the emergency room at the state-run Services Hospital in Lahore was overflowing with critically ill patients. “We were reporting 25 deaths every day,” Dr Muhamed Aqeel, who works in the Covid-19 ward of the hospital. “These were confirmed cases of coronavirus, as well as those we suspected, had been infected before their demise.” Overworked doctors in stretched to capacity hospitals were running short on beds and ventilators in the intensive care units. But then unexpectedly, last week the number of sick began falling, as did fatalities, offering healthcare workers a glimmer of hope. A few days earlier, on June 15, the Punjab government identified several hotspots of the deadly disease in the most-impacted cities and restricted movements in these areas. But for Dr Aqeel, the sharp decline in cases was not due to the sealing of residential areas, which was too recent a measure to show results. “The spike in cases that we witnessed last month was due to the massive spread of the virus during Eid holidays [in May].” The young doctor is referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement on May 7 to ease a three-week lockdown in the country prior to Eid holidays. Shortly after, the highest court in the country also ordered shopping malls to reopen. Small and big markets, retailers and allied industries were allowed to lift shutters on the condition that all sectors will strictly follow safety guidelines. But few did. Media channels telecasted images of crowded markets and showed rampant violations of government- mandated health protocols. Yet, there has been a significant drop in those walking through hospitals doors. Dr Amara Khalid, who was overwhelmed with patients last month, admits she too was surprised when on June 19, she only received three new patients at the hard-hit Mayo Hospital in Lahore. “It was quite surprising for us to see how the patients were overflowing in the ER one week and to only have three patients in a six hours shift the next,” the young doctor told local media. “Two of the three patients we got even wanted to go home after understanding the basics of treatment.” Dr Khalid agrees with her colleague at Services Hospital that the sudden ease in restrictive measures by the government had brought hospitals to a breaking point. “Majority of the patients we received, who got infected around Eid, have either recovered or unfortunately died.” Official numbers also support what the doctors are reporting. Punjab recorded its highest tally of daily cases, 2,705, on June 12. But from June 19, infections have been on a downward slope. Although, at the same time, test numbers in the province have dipped drastically, from June 17 when Punjab sampled over 11,000 tests in a day, its highest to date. On June 29, Punjab carried out only 7,729 tests, against a testing capacity of 17,320 per day. Despite what the numbers tell or don’t tell, doctors warn that the risk of the infection is still very much present and now is not the time for complacency. A big threat, they add, are the next Eid holidays slated for July. “I do fear a spike after holidays,” said Dr Khalid, “People are still not taking this virus seriously. They still insist it is just a hoax.” Dr Nauman Hussain Chaudhry, who works at a public hospital in Dera Ghazi Khan, has experienced the same kind of hesitation from people refusing to be tested or treated at a public health facility. With 2,846 new coronavirus cases surfacing in Pakistan over the last 24 hours, the total tally now stands at 209,337. The death toll from the virus stands at 4,304 with 118 deaths reported over the last 24 hours. Some 20,930 coronavirus tests were carried out during this period.
When musician Zoraiz Riaz set up a Facebook group to help co-ordinate convalescent plasma donations for people fighting Covid-19 in Pakistan, he expected perhaps a few hundred responses. Within a month, however, the “Corona Recovered Warriors” group had more than 320,000 members, needing a team of 33 volunteers to manage posts from families of patients across Pakistan seeking advice. “Around 85% are looking for plasma,” Riaz, 27, told Reuters from his home in the eastern Pakistani metropolis of Lahore, one of the hardest-hit cities in the South Asian nation, which has recorded nearly 210,000 infections and over 4,300 deaths from the virus. “The rest are looking for different medical supplies, oxygen, ventilators, injections for drugs, or leads on hospitals that have availability,” Riaz added. The scale of the response highlights the large gap left by a disorganised healthcare system in Pakistan which is ill-equipped to offer systematic guidance as Covid-19 deaths mount. The group this week featured the country’s top expert giving advice on convalescent plasma treatment. “There was no clear guidance from the government, and we had to face this urgent amount of requests for plasma from almost everyone, even people whose medical consultants were not recommending it were coming to us asking for plasma,” Riaz said. Plasma treatment, involving the infusion of plasma from a recovered Covid-19 patient to a recovering one as a source of antibodies, is widely sought despite limited information on its effectiveness. Leading Pakistani haematologists warned this month the treatment had become widespread and that government guidelines were urgently needed – particularly with a burgeoning black market for plasma. Health officials finally put in place national standards for plasma treatment and warned the public that the sale of plasma is illegal. But many families with sick loved ones had already sought guidance from the Facebook group, with volunteer physicians answering questions about plasma and linking donors and recipients to bypass the black market. Each request for plasma, Riaz says, is screened by volunteers who require medical documentation from physicians showing the treatment is viable. Donors are also screened to ensure no one is selling the plasma. Members are also offering ventilators and oxygen tanks to hospitals, and home-cooked food for families of patients or those in quarantine. Many offer advice on hospitals with available beds or where to find drugs prescribed by doctors, which are not easily available from markets because the government has been unable to control hoarding and profiteering amid the pandemic. “Corona Recovered Warriors” isn’t the only social media platform being used by desperate families. “Blood Donors Pakistan”, set up in 2011 using Twitter to connect families with blood donors, is also getting more than 50 requests a day. “When your family is in this condition, whatever remedy (available), even if not effective, is something they try to use,” Usama Mehmood Khan, who helps run the platform, said.
Lt General Nigar Johar has become the first woman officer in the history of Pakistan Army to reach the three-star rank, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said yesterday. The newly appointed lieutenant general, who hails from the Panjpeer village in Swabi district, has been appointed as the first Surgeon General of Pakistan Army, the military’s media wing added. In 2017, she became the third woman in the country’s history to hold the rank of a major general. According to a media report, Johar is the daughter of Col Qadir, who had served in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Gunmen armed with grenades attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in Karachi yesterday in a bid to take hostages, killing two guards and a police officer before security forces killed all four of the attackers, security officials said. “Police have recovered modern automatic weapons and explosive materials from the terrorists,” Karachi police said in a statement. Separatist insurgents from the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan claimed responsibility, a senior counter-terrorism official, Raja Umar Khattab, told Reuters. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility in a post on Twitter. Spokesmen for the group were not available for comment. “It was a serious attack but fortunately the terrorists could not manage to enter the main compound,” Farrukh Khan, managing director of the PSX, told ARY news. He said that trading had started when the attackers stormed the building on Karachi’s I.I.Chundrigar Road, also known as Pakistan’s Wall Street, around 10am. More than 1,000 traders and staff were in the building at the time of attack, according to the reports. There were fewer people in the compound than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. “They had come to carry out an attack inside the building and take hostages inside,” the director-general of the Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary force, Omer Ahmed Bukhari, told media, adding that all attackers had been killed within eight minutes. “Every terrorist was armed with weapons that include Ak-47s, hand grenades, rocket launchers, food and water, etc.” “It was a combined effort with rangers, police and PSX security guards,” he said adding that the entire building was cleared within 25 minutes so that the routine activity of the Pakistan Stock Exchange was not affected. Bukhari continued: “The PSX is an important symbol of economic activity hence the objective of these militants must have been to increase casualties here or hold hostages.” “It was an attempt to send a message to the world that Pakistan is not safe. They wanted to downgrade Pakistan’s economic activity and harm investors’ confidence,” he noted. The police chief of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Ghulam Nabi Memon, told Reuters that the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car. Two guards and a police officer were killed and seven people were wounded, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Sharjil Kharal told media. Pakistan’s military praised the swift response of the city’s security forces, while the Karachi police released a video of one member from a provincial security unit describing the firefight. “I shot one of them dead ... the second guy saw me and ... he took out a grenade. I shot him twice in his hand and his weapon fell down. I then shot him in the head as he tried to pull out the grenade pin,” said Mohamed Rafiq, a member of an elite provincial rapid response team. The video of the officer was shared widely online, with social media users calling Rafiq a hero. A counter-terrorism official told Reuters that the attackers were carrying significant quantities of ammunition and grenades in backpacks. “We locked ourselves in our offices,” said Asad Javed, who works at a brokerage in the stock exchange building, which is in a high security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks. Javed said that he was on the ground floor when he heard gunfire and an explosion and people scattered for safety. Sindh Rangers director-general Bukhari said that the attack could not have been carried out without the support of “hostile intelligence agencies”. “But at the moment we have to collect evidence to establish the supporters,” he added. An aide to Pakistan’s prime minister on national security matters, Moeed Yusuf, and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both said the attack was sponsored by hostile foreign elements. “Make no mistake, today’s attack in Karachi is state-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan,” said Yusuf. “The world must wake up to suicidal tendencies of this destabilising actor that is finding distractions to overcome its own failures and embarrassment.” The BLA claimed responsibility in a brief message on a Twitter account set up shortly before the raid, describing it as a “self-sacrificing” attack carried out by its Majeed brigade. The account was suspended a short time after the attack. Separatists have been fighting for years in resource-rich Baluchistan, complaining that its gas and mineral wealth is unfairly exploited by Pakistan’s richer, more powerful provinces. The BLA’s Majeed brigade also took responsibility for an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018. Several projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are in Baluchistan. This month, three explosions on the same day claimed by a little-known separatist group killed four people including two soldiers in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital. The PSX did not suspend trading during the attack. Its main KSE-100 index dropped 220 points briefly but later recovered and closed the day 242 points (0.7%) higher. “Trading is smooth and continuing. PSX benchmark index one of the Best Performer in Asia today so far,” tweeted Mohamed Sohail, a broker at the exchange. Following yesterday’s attack in Karachi, Pakistani authorities vowed to strike back against any group that is found responsible for the onslaught, promising to dismantle their networks and destroy their bases. “An investigation has been launched and very soon we will reach their masterminds,” Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said in a video message posted after the attack. Karachi was once a hotspot for crime and violence, with heavily-armed groups linked to politicians frequently gunning down opponents and launching attacks on residential areas. But the situation has largely stabilised in recent years following operations by security agencies against armed political outfits and Islamist militants. Last year, the US State Department designated the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any US assets they may have. Yesterday’s attack comes more than a week after a grenade was thrown at a line of people waiting outside a government welfare office in the city, killing one and injuring eight others, according to a statement from municipal authorities.
Four gunmen attacked the Pakistani Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi on Monday but security forces killed them all, police said. Two other people were also killed, the military said, adding that security forces were conducting a sweep for any remaining attackers. The gunmen attacked the building, which is in a high security zone that also houses the head offices of many private banks, with grenades and guns, said Ghulam Nabi Memon, chief of police in Pakistan's biggest city and its financial hub. ‘Four attackers have been killed, they had come in a silver Corolla car,’ Memon told Reuters. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The gunmen initially threw a grenade at security men posted outside the stock exchange compound then opened fire on a security post. The four were killed when security forces posted there responded. The Pakistan Stock Exchange did not suspend trading during the attack, its managing director, Furrukh Khan, said. A Counter-Terrorism Department official told Reuters the attackers were carrying significant quantities of ammunition and grenades in backpacks. This month, three explosions on the same day claimed by a little-known separatist group killed four people including two soldiers in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is capital.
Karachi’s District East has emerged as the most-affected coronavirus affected area in Sindh, where around 15,669 people have tested positive for the virus, the highest number of cases in any district of Pakistan. The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. “Not just in terms of cases, but the District East of Karachi has recorded the highest number of deaths, which is 311, since the first death occurred due to Covid-19 on March 19, 2020, in Sindh,” said a provincial government official. “Nobody knows why the number of cases is so high in District East, which is equal to the combined number of Covid-19 cases of the Malir, Korangi and West districts of Karachi.” A city of 16,051,521 people, as per the 2017 census, Karachi had recorded 55,459 cases of Covid-19, while around 1,000 people had lost their lives by June 26, the official said. “Twenty-five per cent of the recorded Covid-19 cases and deaths in Pakistan have been reported in Karachi. It is has emerged as the most-affected city of Pakistan, where the number of cases on June 26, 2020, is 195,745 with 3,962 deaths. “We are trying to find out as to why cases and deaths in this district are more than they are in three other districts West, Malir and Korangi, which have a three times bigger population than that of District East.” The official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said that according to the 2017 census, the population of District East is 2,907,467, and it comprises areas like Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Jamshaid Road, Mehmoodabad, Bahadurabad, Hasan Square, Sachal and Safoora Goth, and Abul Hasan Isphahani Road, where the residents are typically better off financially and more educated. “But when we see the statistics, District East has emerged as one of the most-affected areas. During 24 hours between June 25-26, eight people lost their lives, which is the highest number of deaths in any district of the province,” the official added. Karachi’s District Central is the second most-affected district in Sindh in terms of deaths, with 208 people having died due to Covid-19 since March 19, Sindh government officials said, adding that with almost the same population (2,971,626) as District East, District Central had 9,869 cases on the morning of June 26. “Although District Central has around 5,000 fewer cases as compared to District East, it has the second-highest number of deaths in the province. This district also comprises areas where the most educated class of Karachi lives, while people in this district are also well off as compared to those in other areas of Karachi.” Karachi’s District South, which comprises two richest and educated as well as poor and uneducated areas of Karachi, i.e. Defence and Clifton on one side and Lyari on the other, has emerged as the third most-affected area, officials said, adding that so far 13,372 people had been found infected with the coronavirus, and 181 people had lost their lives in various areas of the district. With 128 deaths, the most populated district of Karachi, West, is the fourth most-affected district in Sindh, officials said, adding that despite having a population of around 3.9mn, District West had only 5,434 cases of Covid-19 by June 26. “The smaller number of cases in the most populated district of Sindh could be due to the fewer number of tests conducted, but 128 deaths also indicate that it is not as badly-affected area as District East or District Central,” the official said. With a population of more than 2.4mn as per the 2017 census, the Korangi district is the fifth most-affected area of Karachi, with 93 deaths by June 26, officials said, adding that 5,059 people had been found infected there. The District Malir of Karachi, which comprises mostly rural areas and where most residents are considered less educated, is the least-affected district in the city, officials said, adding that only 72 people had died due to the coronavirus, with 6,056 people infected. Commenting on the situation, eminent infectious diseases expert Dr Faisal Mehmood said that normally people of low socioeconomic status are more likely to contract infectious diseases compared to those who from the well-off segments of society, as they latter tend to take better care of their health due to their level of awareness, education, and better opportunities and resources. “In the low socio-economic segment of society, people are less educated, and their level of awareness is also low. They live in congested localities, with more people in small houses, which is the case in our katchi abadis and poor areas. “As they can’t enjoy the luxury of having their separate rooms, they are more likely to get affected as soon as the first member of their family is infected by Covid-19,” Dr Mehmood observed. When asked why more cases were being reported from well-off areas of the city compared to the poorer localities, he said that this could be due to a higher number of tests in the former.
The number of coronavirus infections in Pakistan surpassed the 200,000 mark yesterday as authorities imposed restrictions in major cities across the country in a struggle to control the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rose to 202,944 and related deaths reached 4,118. The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus. At least 4,072 new cases and 83 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed yesterday. More than 92,000, or 45%, of people infected have recovered whereas 2,805 are in critical condition at hospitals. Pakistan reported its first coronavirus case on February 26 and is now among the top 15 countries most affected. The numbers of infections swelled after the government lifted lockdown restrictions last month. More than 100,000 new cases were reported during the last 20 days, whereas government projections suggest the number may go up to 225,000 by June 30. Officials say the country is still at least a month away from the projected peak of the pandemic. Violations of lockdown guidelines prompted authorities to seal markets, shopping malls, and residential areas in several parts of the country. Virus hotspots in 20 major cities have been under a “smart lockdown” since June 14. The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has advised the government to reimpose a strict lockdown to stem the spread of the virus. While Pakistan’s tally of the coronavirus cases crossed the 200,000 mark, the National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) met to discuss the reasons for a sudden decline in the number of daily tests and new cases in the past week. The NCOC meeting, which was attended by the chief secretaries and health secretaries of all the provinces, compared the tally of tests conducted on June 21 and 26, and found that the number of new cases across the country dropped by around 40% from 7,000 to 4,000 a day. They discussed different factors such as testing, smart lockdown and awareness campaigns regarding precautionary measures that could have contributed to drop in the number of new cases. It was observed that the number of tests declined by 64% in Sindh. On June 21, it was observed, 30,520 tests for the coronavirus were conducted across the country. Of these, 13,890 tests were conducted in Sindh, 9,598 in Punjab, 3,416 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 2,545 in Islamabad, 707 in Baluchistan, 247 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), and 117 tests were conducted in Gilgit-Baltistan. On June 26, they noted, the number of Covid-19 tests dropped to 21,033 in the country. Of these, 9,353 were conducted in Punjab, 5,103 in Sindh, 2,913 in KP, 2,463 in Islamabad, 881 in Baluchistan, 286 in AJK, and 34 in Gilgit-Baltistan. According to an NCOC statement, the Sindh health secretary informed the participants that the number of tests that declined due to some administrative reason would be increased in next two to three days. The health secretaries of other provinces also informed the meeting that the demand for Covid-19 test had reduced, as fewer patients were visiting hospitals. Some experts expressed concern over the emerging trend that people were preferring to isolate themselves at homes rather than go get tested. The participants at the meeting noted that the number of patients having Covid-19 symptoms was on the decline, while people’s movement across Pakistan had been reduced due to the 542 lockdowns enforced in 20 cities. Moreover, provincial officials also briefed the meeting about the implementation of precautionary measures in industries, markets, transport, courts, government offices, mosques, and public places. They claimed that improvement was observed at most of the places. Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar appreciated the performance of all the provinces and field staff, due to which the number of cases decreased across the country. “We need to ensure use of face masks and social distancing so that the deadly virus would be controlled. We are ready to provide more polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines and testing kits as per their requirements,” he said. Meanwhile, around 30,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics completed training under “WeCare” programme, while 100,000 more healthcare workers will be trained to provide treatment to Covid-19 patients and ensure their own safety. According to a statement of the ministry of national health services, the programme was launched to protect doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff from infection while performing their duties. The ministry data indicated that more than 3,500 healthcare workers from AJK, GB and Islamabad, 9,700 from KP, 6,500 from Punjab, 8,700 from Sindh, and more than 1,600 doctors, paramedics and support staff from Baluchistan have completed the training. The ministry’s spokesperson said that healthcare workers from all over the country could register themselves for the training programme through the official website wecare.nhsrc.gov.pk. “Thousands of healthcare workers from across the country have already registered to participate in the training programme, which is being conducted for one hour online as per the given schedule,” he said. “In the training programme, specialist doctors are providing guidance to healthcare workers on the proper use of personal protective equipment and ensuring their safety.” The training programme was launched last month considering that doctors and paramedical staff engaged in the treatment of coronavirus patients are at high risk of contracting the disease. According to the official statement, the ministry is also ensuring delivery of safety equipment to hospitals and intensive care units. In a short period of time, it said, the government successfully overcame the challenging phase of manufacturing and supplying personal protective equipment as per the national demand.
The National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) has said that 189 additional oxygenated beds have been added in government hospitals in Islamabad in the last four days to meet contingency requirements. As many as 2,775 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in last 24 hours, and 59 people died of the Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the highly-contagious virus on Thursday. A total of 21,041 tests have been conducted in the last 24 hours. A total of 84,168 Covid-19 patients have so far recovered across Pakistan. Likewise, 491 ventilators have been occupied across country from out of 1,562 vents allocated for Covid-19 patients. The total number of active Covid-19 cases in country is 107,615. A total of 195,745 cases have been detected so far. The NCOC said 3,962 have died after contracting the virus. Sharing the details of coronavirus diagnostic test, the NCOC said that 1,193,017 tests have so far been conducted. A total of 4,978 Covid-19 patients have been admitted across the country in 768 hospitals with facilities to handle such cases.
Pakistan’s national airline Pakistan International Airline (PIA) has written to foreign missions and global regulatory and safety bodies, assuring them that it has grounded all 141 pilots suspected of obtaining licences through unfair means, the carrier’s spokesman said yesterday. The move looks to assuage safety concerns after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said on Friday that the government had asked various commercial airlines, flying clubs and charter companies to ground a total of 262 pilots until investigations into their qualifications are completed. The action was prompted by a preliminary report on the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi last month, which found pilots had failed to follow standard procedures. Global safety and transport bodies expressed concern about the alleged “dubious” licences and said that they are looking into the matter. The PIA flies a number of international routes, including to the United States and Europe. “It is also ensured that all pilots flying PIA flights are having genuine licences endorsed by the government of Pakistan,” said a copy of the letter sent to the US embassy in Islamabad seen by Reuters. The letter, signed by PIA chief executive Arshad Malik, also promised that the airline would remain compliant with all international aviation safety and regulatory standards. The PIA’s spokesman said the letter had been sent to all heads of foreign missions in Pakistan as well as international aviation regulators and safety monitoring agencies. Aviation Minister Khan had said that the move to ground the pilots would help allay global concerns and show wrongdoing had been corrected. He added that five officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were also suspended for abetting the suspected pilots. The Pakistan pilots’ union did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. In a joint statement, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations called for the crash probe to be conducted on international standards, urging against “premature conclusions” based on incomplete or speculative information. The scandal comes in the wake of the crash in Karachi on May 22 that killed 98 people – 97 on board the aircraft – and which authorities have essentially blamed on the two pilots. Investigators said the aviators were chatting about the coronavirus while they attempted to land the Airbus A320 without putting its wheels down, catastrophically damaging the engines. The plane lost power and plunged into houses near the airport as it went around for a second landing attempt. According to a government review conducted last year, details of which were revealed on Thursday, 262 of Pakistan’s 860 active pilots hold fake licences or cheated on examinations. More than half of them were from state-run PIA. Until the 1970s, Pakistan’s largest airline was considered a top regional carrier but its reputation plummeted amid chronic mismanagement, frequent cancellations and financial woes. So far, authorities have started dismissal proceedings against 28 of the 262 pilots with criminal charges likely, Aviation Minister Khan said on Friday. PIA will bring reforms aimed at restructuring the airline, he told reporters, adding the “clean-up process” should be completed by the end of the year. “People are saying this (revelation) will have a negative impact. But when you try to save a patient, you have to do major surgery, radiation – and even chemo,” the minister told a press conference. He sought to blame the PIA’s problems on “the wrongdoings of previous governments”. “God willing, 2021 will be the year of the betterment of Pakistan’s institutions and, God willing, the PIA will become the PIA of good times – the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s”.- Several observers did not share the optimism, and doubt whether the public will trust any promised reforms. The scandal will “prove the last nail in the coffin of PIA”, predicted Ijaz Haroon, who was managing director at the airline until he resigned in 2011 amid a union protest. “The world is not going to trust us anymore. No one would like to fly with pilots who have bogus licences. (Khan’s) statement has further tarnished the image of the airline.” Shahzad Chaudry, a retired Pakistan air force air vice-marshal, said the government was unfairly scapegoating the PIA, as it is the CAA that issues licences. “We not only need a complete overhauling of the PIA but the CAA as well, as both go hand in hand,” Chaudry told AFP. The PIA, which is helmed by a serving air force officer, currently has a fleet of 31 planes and a payroll of about 14,500 workers. The high staff-to-plane ratio has seen long-standing accusations the government and the military use the airline to dish out jobs to cronies and retired military officers. “The current PIA economic model is under the vested interests of political parties and different pressure groups,” Chaudry said. “No airline has 500 staff per aircraft. Our economic model right from the foundation is unsustainable.” Three current PIA pilots who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity outlined a series of issues, including pilots being forced to work lengthy shifts of up to 24 hours. A PIA spokesman said there was “no such case”. Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent aircraft crashes over the years. In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed during a flight from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40. Qasim Qadir, the joint secretary at the Pakistan Airline Pilot Association, called for a transparent and thorough final investigation into the May 22 Karachi crash. “Blaming (the pilots) is one thing but ... we want the system to become safer for us and the passengers. So please make it a fair investigation,” Qadir said. Meanwhile, CNN journalist Richard Quest has remarked that the revelation that one-third of Pakistani pilots have fake licences was the most “extraordinary” story in aviation. “It is not prevalent elsewhere. This is the most extraordinary story in aviation. Dubious licences. ‘Fake’ licences – how the investigators put it in the Pakistan aircraft investigation,” he said. Clarifying the fact that the pilots flying the aircraft that crashed last month did have licences, Quest said: “There was a raft of other incompetent issues in the way they were flying the plane.” He said the fact that a country is admitting that there are dubious pilot licences in the commercial airline sector “beggars belief”, adding that it raises “some serious questions” about the safety of airline operations in Pakistan. Speaking of elsewhere in the world, he said: “We have had isolated cases where pilots have been flying for decades on forged and outdated [documents], but they always turn out to be very good pilots who just didn’t have the right paperwork. “This is not that case, this is a case of wholesale fraud.” “People flying that shouldn’t have been flying – it’s a scandal,” he added. The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz’s Ahsan Iqbal has said that the government had put the entire aviation industry at stake “to hide their incompetence in one aircraft incident”. “Today, the entire aviation industry is being ridiculed throughout the world,” he said.
Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar has said that the number of coronavirus cases in the country is expected to rise to 225,000 by the end of June, and cautioned that the virus threat is still not over. The highly-contagious coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. The minister was addressing media personnel, along with Information Minister Shibli Faraz, where he said that as per an earlier estimate, 300,000 cases were expected nationwide till June 30. Umar said that when the number of Covid-19 cases surged, people started following preventative measures. “There were two weeks when the big hospitals in major cities faced pressure,” he said, cautioning that if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are not followed, the situation can deteriorate. The government has increased healthcare facilities with more beds and ventilators, which gives us hope for the coming days, said Umar, adding that on June 14, the authorities disclosed the facts before the public, and presented the estimate for the end of the month. The minister said that they took into consideration expert opinions and implemented a “smart” lockdown in areas with a high number of Covid-19 cases. Paying tribute to healthcare workers and those on the frontlines fighting the pandemic, Umar said: “Doctors and paramedical staff are busy for our protection. It is our responsibility to help the front-line workers by playing our part. “It is not a very difficult thing to do, we just need to have a sense of responsibility. If we do this, our health system would not be paralysed.” Collectively, it is in our hands to fight the coronavirus while listening to health experts and their advice, he said. Umar stated that the smart lockdown was implemented from mid-May, and in 20 cities the pandemic seemed to be spreading at a rapid speed. He said that fortunately, things seemed to be under control at the moment. “This has given us a lesson that we can control the situation if we want to, by taking the required measures on time. I have given directions for data collection for the coming months of July and August, and will take decisions according to it.” Earlier this month Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the cases of the deadly coronavirus in Pakistan would hit a peak by the end of July or start of August. In his address, he also warned of “a very difficult time” ahead if people continued to ignore the SOPs. Appealing to the citizens to follow precautionary measures, the prime minister said that not following the precautionary measures “will cause harm to the country”. The lockdown to curb the spread of the respiratory illness does not end the pandemic, but only slows it down, the premier explained. As of today, Pakistan has recorded 195,745 cases of the coronavirus, with more than 3,900 deaths.
Prime Minister Imran Khan says that there has been no confusion in the government’s policy to tackle the challenge of coronavirus pandemic. Addressing at the National Assembly, he said that the government had immediately enforced a lockdown. The prime minister said that because of the high-density population and high poverty rate in the country, implementing a complete lockdown for a longer period was not possible. Hence, Khan explained, the strategy of a “smart” lockdown was adopted to protect people from both the pandemic and hunger. The prime minister said that the National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) was set up to tackle the pandemic effectively in consultation with experts. He added that the “Corona Relief Tiger Force” has been deployed to convince people to observe standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. The prime minister told the National Assembly that Pakistan’s healthcare system can cope with the challenge of the pandemic if people strictly follow the preventative measures. He warned that the burden on hospitals will increase if the SOPs are not followed in letter and spirit. Highlighting his government’s priorities, Khan said that in order to develop agriculture and construction sectors on a priority basis, the government has allocated Rs30bn for a package to provide affordable housing to the people at a low-interest rate. To revive the industrial sector, he said that duty on thousands of raw materials has been abolished. Khan said that the government intends to reopen the tourism sector with SOPs in order to protect the livelihood of those associated with the industry. The prime minister also said that the government has launched the Ehsaas emergency cash aid programme and distributed over Rs140bn among 12mn deserving families in a transparent manner, and plans to expand this programme to 16mn families. Regarding his vision of a welfare state, Khan said that the government has established 200 panagahs (shelters) in different parts of the country and that the network will be expanded. He also said that the government believes in equal development of all parts of the country, and that massive allocations have been made in the new budget for the merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. The prime minister, however, requested that the provinces provide the 3% share of the National Finance Commission Award (NFC) allocations that they had pledged for the erstwhile Federally-Administered Tribal Area (Fata). Khan said the government has formulated a uniform syllabus to be implemented next March. On the matter of the locust incursion, he assured that all efforts are being taken to cope with the challenge. On the issue of politics, Khan categorically stated that he had no personal enmity with members of the opposition, but believes that the rule of law and accountability of the leadership are imperative for progress. Rejecting the impression of political victimisation, he said that 90% of the cases against the opposition are “old”. Turning to the recent sugar shortage scandal, the prime minister said that a landmark inquiry was conducted into the matter, which exposed that sugar mills were provided with subsidy of Rs29bn in four years, but they only paid Rs4bn in taxes. Highlighting his Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s achievements in foreign policy, Khan said that the issue of Kashmir has been kept on the international stage today. He said that the whole world is witnessing the alleged persecution of Muslims in India and in Indian-administered Kashmir. Expressing concern over the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, the prime minister said that the Kashmiris’ struggle for their right to self-determination cannot be suppressed by deploying 800,000 Indian troops in the territory. Khan stressed that the Kashmir issue has reached the point of no return after India’s annexation of Kashmir. On ties with the US, the prime minister said that today Pakistan enjoys cordial relations with Washington. He reiterated that Pakistan will not be part of any United States war, but will always be ready to facilitate peace talks. Khan said that the US acknowledges Pakistan’s role in peace process in Afghanistan. He also said that Pakistan is also trying its best to improve relations between the Saudi Arabia and Iran. Drawing a comparison between the PTI government’s performance with the previous ones, Khan said that his government inherited a current account deficit of $20bn, which has now been reduced to $3bn, and that borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan has been brought to zero from Rs6tn. He further said that tax collection increased by 17%, and that non-tax revenue rose by 33% before the breakout of the coronavirus. Foreign direct investment, Khan told the National Assembly, rose to $2.1bn from $1bn.