The “smart lockdown” across the country to combat the spread of the coronavirus has seen a drop in the number of infections and deaths in the country, reported. The highly-contagious coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. According to the national Covid-19 portal, the number of confirmed cases in the country has reached 191,022, with Sindh reporting 74,070 cases, Punjab 69,536 cases, Baluchistan 9,817 cases, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 23,887 cases, Islamabad 11,483 cases, Gilgit-Baltistan 1,337 cases, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 892 cases. The country recorded 4,283 recoveries in the past 24 hours, taking the number of recovered cases to 77,754. The death toll reached 3,808 with the reporting of 78 more deaths in the last 24 hours – a considerable drop in the death toll compared with the usual over 100 deaths in the previous days. Punjab reported 1,228 new cases and 21 new deaths in the past 24 hours. The province has so far recorded 1,516 deaths. Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK collectively reported 298 new cases and four fatalities. Addressing a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday, Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid said the government is imposing one-week lockdown in seven areas of Lahore, where a cluster of cases had been detected. The areas under lockdown are Gulberg, Model Town, Faisal Town, Garden Town, Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Gulshan-e-Ravi, and Walled City. The federal capital reported two deaths and 264 cases, taking the death and confirmed cases rally to 108 and 11,483 respectively. Gilgit-Baltistan reported 11 new cases, and AJK 23. Sindh reported 1,414 confirmed cases and 37 deaths during the past 24 hours. In his daily briefing on the coronavirus situation in the province, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said that 7,400 tests were carried out over the past 24 hours, out of which 1,414 came back positive. With the new cases, the provincial tally has increased to 74,070. Thirty-seven more deaths were recorded during the period, taking the total number of fatalities to 1,161 in Sindh. Baluchistan reported 183 new cases of the novel coronavirus, taking the provincial tally to 9,817. The health department confirmed the death of two more people taking the toll to 108. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported 499 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the provincial tally to 23,887. The health department confirmed death of 14 more people taking the toll to 869. Meanwhile, the KP health department has directed all the medical teaching institutions to allocate 20% capacity for Covid-19 patients, start coronavirus tests round the clock, feed data to the health system on daily basis, and ensure availability of additional staff for best possible care of the patients. The government has shut down more than 874 markets/shops and one industrial unit, while 1,409 transporters were fined and their vehicles sealed for violating the standard operating procedures (SOPs), according to the National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC). Over 9,532 violations of health guidelines/instructions were observed across the country over the past 24 hours, the NCOC said. Overall, 4,479 violations were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2,445 in Punjab, 1,000 in Sindh, 818 in Baluchistan, 585 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 156 in Gilgit-Baltistan, and 49 in Islamabad.
The pilots of a plane that crashed last month in Pakistan, killing 98 people, were preoccupied by the coronavirus crisis and tried to land with the aircraft’s wheels still up, according to initial official reports released yesterday. The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crashed into a crowded residential area on May 22 after both engines failed as it approached Karachi airport for a second landing attempt, killing all but two people on board, and a child on the ground. The preliminary report outlines the flight’s chaotic final minutes and a bizarre series of errors compounded by communication failures with air traffic control. Investigators found the plane was at more than twice the correct altitude when it first approached the runway, and the tower advised the pilots to circle for a more gradual descent, the report states. But, instead of going around, the pilots attempted to land anyway - even though they had raised the landing gear. Air traffic control saw the Airbus A320’s engines scrape the runway with a shower of sparks, but did not tell the cockpit. The badly damaged engines failed as the plane turned to attempt a second landing. Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told parliament the pilots had been discussing the coronavirus as they attempted to land and had disengaged the craft’s autopilot. “The pilot and co-pilot were not focused and throughout they were having a conversation about corona. The [virus] was on their minds. Their families were affected and they were having a discussion about it,” Khan said. “Unfortunately the pilot was overconfident,” the minister added. Khan also pointed to a troubling review of pilot credentials that is bound to reverberate through the country’s airline industry. He said a probe last year found that 262 of Pakistan’s 860 active pilots had fake licenses or had cheated on exams - including an unspecified number of PIA pilots. The crash investigation team, which included officials from the French government and the aviation industry, analysed cockpit data and voice recorders. Pakistan’s deadliest aviation accident in eight years came days after domestic commercial flights resumed following a two-month coronavirus lockdown. According to the report, the plane had been on the ground for 46 days during that time. But it was “100 percent fit for flying, there was no technical fault”, Khan said. Qasim Qadim - a spokesman for the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association - called the investigation’s findings “mind-boggling”. “How could it happen? It just baffles me,” he said. “The greatest pilots with the best records have made mistakes. Humans make mistakes.” The report did not name the pilots, but a senior PIA official told AFP the captain was Sajjad Gul. Gul joined the airline 25 years ago and had racked up 17,000 hours of flying experience, including 4,500 hours on A320s, the official said. Many passengers were travelling to spend Eid al-Fitr with loved ones. Buildings were torn apart after the plane’s wings sliced through rooftops, sending flames and plumes of smoke into the air. Khan said three people on the ground were injured, saying for the first time that a young girl later died. A full report is expected to be released at the end of the year, with advanced analysis of the aircraft wreckage still ongoing. Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years. In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people. The deadliest air disaster in Pakistan was in 2010 when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue crashed into the hills of Islamabad as it came in to land, killing all 152 people on board. An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere. PIA, one of the region’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles. It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.
The Punjab government yesterday announced it is sealing off seven more areas in Lahore to stem the spread of the Covid-19, as cases of the virus continue to surge across Pakistan. The areas which will be sealed off from midnight include Gulshan-e-Ravi, Faisal Town, Gulberg, Model Town, DHA, and Garden Town. These areas will be closed completely from midnight. Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid said that the main reason to seal the aforementioned areas is to halt the surging number of coronavirus cases in the province since the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were being violated in these respective areas. “Hopefully, if SOPs are implemented in a week, there will be a clear reduction in coronavirus cases,” she said, adding that the government is trying its level best to ensure economic activities took place and at the same time, ensure all possible measures were being taken to for the safety of citizens. Deploring that the most number of SOP violations are reported from marketplaces and business centres, Rashid urged masses to abide by safety measures while wearing masks, especially outdoors and at public spaces. “We are fulfilling our responsibility but the people are also responsible in combating the contagious disease [by following the issued directives],” the minister stressed. Speaking about the health facilities, provision of medical equipment and hospital capacity in the medical centres of the province, Rashid noted that during the last 10 days, there the number of High Dependency Units (HDU) and ventilators have increased in Punjab. She said that about 30 to 50% of the beds in hospitals were empty. “We have 250 High Dependency Units [HDU] and 60 ventilators empty,” she added. Maintaining that the government is conducting free coronavirus tests, the minister stated that about 11,000 tests are being conducted on a daily basis across the province. “We have tried to improve the current circumstances [and] the situation is under control,” Rashid added. The government has also announced a relaxation in the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the funerals of coronavirus patients, making it easier for relatives of the deceased to take part in the burial process. A meeting of the Anti-Coronavirus Cabinet Committee was held presided over by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Bazdar in which approval was given to review the SOPs for the burial of coronavirus patients. It was decided to allow heirs to attend the funerals and perform the burial of the Covid-19 patients. The SOPs have been relaxed to the extent that relatives of the deceased can now see his/her face but not come near it or touch it. Relatives have been allowed to wrap the body up in plastic for the funeral process and a coffin to place the body in is no longer necessary, as per the new SOPs. Last month, the ministry of health had issued a revised document to ensure precautionary measures are followed while handling the bodies of suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus. The federal government’s document aimed to “provide management guidelines to the families, healthcare providers, managers of health facilities and mortuaries, religious and public health authorities, and to all those who attend to the dead bodies of individuals suspected or confirmed for Covid-19”. The directives covered the entire process – from the beginning when a body is prepared to be transferred from hospitals and medical centres for the autopsy process [which according to the document should be conducted under engineered and controlled environment] to the burial and funeral rituals. Burial, the document added, should be managed by the authorities on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the risks of exposure to infection and the need of investigation the death cause. Additionally, the chief minister has also ordered to continue crackdown on those who stockpile Actemra injections and other essential drugs during the coronavirus crisis. The minister further said that cattle markets would not be set up in the city limits on the account of Eid al-Adha and a final plan should be presented to seal some areas of Lahore to stem the disease from spreading. “The capacity of coronavirus tests in Punjab has increased to 12,000 on a daily basis though the number of confirmed patients has declined in three days,” he added.
Residents of Lahore have erected statues to commemorate a medieval Turkish leader, a sign of the growing popularity, and cultural impact, of a television series imported from Turkey depicting the origins of the Ottoman Empire. The series, Ertugrul Gazi, which ran in Turkey until 2019, is loosely based on the story of a 13th century nomadic Turkic tribal leader who confronted Mongols, Crusaders and Byzantine rulers in what are now Syria and Turkey. Two statues of Ertugrul have been put up in a residential area of the city. Mohamed Shahzad Cheema, the head of a private housing society, commissioned a likeness of Ertugrul, sword in hand on a rearing horse. “The statue is a reminder of our love for the Ottoman Sultanate, and the jihad which Ertugrul waged which brought us (Muslims) respect in the whole world,” Cheema said. Pakistani broadcaster PTV began airing Urdu-dubbed episodes of the show during Ramadan a few weeks ago, and it has since become the most watched programme ever aired by the outlet. No television show has been able to stir Pakistan the way Ertugrul Gazi has, PTV managing director Aamer Manzoor said. “People feel that it is the Turkish play of Game of Thrones.” More than 58mn people viewed the first episode on PTV’s YouTube channel in two months, and the entire show has had more than 250mn views, Manzoor said. Turkish state television waived royalties for the show. Cheema said people were coming “from far and wide” to take selfies with his statue, installed in a square locals plan to rename after Ertugrul. The show also got a ringing endorsement from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said it would help combat “vulgarity” from Hollywood and Bollywood and promote family culture.
As the death toll of Covid-19 patients crossed the 3,600 mark in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated that lockdown was not the solution to the pandemic, saying that if provinces had consulted him earlier there would have been no “strict” lockdown in the first place. The prime minister said this while addressing a launching ceremony of three initiatives - all aimed at facilitating and empowering welfare organisations and enabling them to play a more coordinated role with the government in responding to the Covid-19 situation. “The lockdown has created an unprecedented situation. If provinces had consulted me, I would have not allowed a lockdown. Panic was created that the virus will spread the way it had in Europe and Wuhan. Our circumstances are different, but a strict lockdown was imposed regardless,” he regretted. He said the Covid-19 situation in Pakistan was still better than neighbouring India, US and European countries because the government had timely launched Ehsaas cash distribution programme for poor families affected by the coronavirus (under which Rs12,000 stipend was given to 12mn families). “Next month is difficult in which smart lockdowns will be imposed and SOPs will be strictly followed to save our aged and those vulnerable people who are already suffering from ailments like heart diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure,” the prime minister said. “If we are able to save these vulnerable people, there will be less effect of coronavirus in the country,” he added. The prime minister revealed that under PM’s Covid-19 Fund, more than 16mn families would be provided monetary assistance. “Those who had not been covered under Ehsaas cash programme, like workers and daily wage earners, they will be given cash under the PM’s Fund,” he added. Talking about the government’s future strategy in the backdrop of Covid-19, the prime minister said: “The government’s next year challenge is how to continue businesses and enforce SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).” “For this we are going to launch a media campaign and will mobilise Tiger Force to provide awareness about SOPs specially in hotspots,” he added. Earlier, Special Assistant to the PM on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar briefed the prime minister about three initiatives. Federal Minister for Information, Shibli Faraz and SAPM Asim Bajwa were preset during the briefing. Federal secretaries and heads of organisations, including Furqan Ahmed Sayed from Pepsi Co, Mohamed Ali Tabba from Lucky Cement, Atif Bajwa from Alfalah Bank, Arif Usmani from NBP, Bashir Farooqui from Saylani Welfare Trust and Quraish Mehmood from Urban Properties were also present. The prime minister assured donors of fair utilisation of donations and said: “Transparency is most critical in the use of donor funds; we are ensuing that there is visibility of every penny donated through the PM’s Covid Fund Portal.” He said new Langar and Panahgah Apps would help ensure much needed critical coordination of welfare activities in the country. Several donors, including Pepsi Co, Lucky Cement, Bank Alfalah and Saylani Welfare International Trust committed to donate cumulatively 12mn meals to deserving beneficiaries by signing MoUs with Ehsaas. The beta version of the Ehsaas Langar and Panahgah apps, which was unveiled during the meeting, enables geographic locations of welfare organisations to be mapped when they are photographed through the app. During the briefing, the prime minister also officially announced the launch of “PM’s Covid-19 Pandemic Relief Fund -2020 Web-Portal” to solicit philanthropic donations. Through this portal, all donors, international as well as domestic, can now remit or deposit their donations through their respective banks through this portal. Till today, as many as pledges worth Rs4.5bn have been made by several domestic and foreign donors in either kind or cash. In a separate meeting, the prime minister directed officials concerned to devise a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in consultation with provinces to deal with Covid-19 situation during forthcoming Eid al-Adha. The prime minister said this year Eid al-Adha was being observed under difficult circumstances. “The present situation requires that SOPs should be devised immediately and they must be implemented strictly in the country,” he added. According to an official press release, the prime minister expressed satisfaction over availability of beds and oxygen in the hospitals. He said keeping in view of international experience, it had been witnessed that positive results were coming due to strategy adopted by the government.
Migratory birds have flocked to the wetlands of Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh in greater numbers this year, and officials and observers link the increase to coronavirus lockdown measures that have kept hunters and bird catchers away. Pakistan, which has recorded over 185,000 cases and 3,696 deaths related to the virus, lifted a month-long country-wide lockdown last month. A survey conducted this year observed 741,042 migratory birds in Sindh province - a big jump from the 248,105 birds counted in 2019, said Sindh Wildlife Department’s provincial conservator, Javed Ahmed Mahar. Each year, approximately 40% of Sindh’s wetlands are surveyed to gain insight into the migratory patterns and numbers of birds. Migratory birds, among them pelicans, mallards, cranes and waders, stop in Pakistan on their way to and from Siberia. Veteran Pakistani wildlife photographer Ahmer Ali Rizvi said coronavirus measures had helped the birds to settle in. “The birds have stayed longer this year, maybe due to meagre disturbances by humans due to the lockdown everywhere,” he said. Mahar said that Sindh authorities had not recorded any wildlife-related crimes such as trapping, hunting or illegal trading in the province since the lockdown was imposed. Hunting has been a problem in the area, threatening several rare species, including the houbara bustard. “The illegal trade in the domestic markets is no more,” he said. There are more than 33 wildlife sanctuaries and one national park in Sindh, which is home to more than 300 bird species.
The federal government gearing up to launch a World Bank-funded locust emergency and food security project in the country amid claims by a federal minister that the catastrophic impact of locust attacks on crops has been minimised with the help of local authorities. The $200mn project, the first federal agricultural project to be financed by the World Bank, had been submitted for approval by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) of the Planning Commission for its upcoming meeting, according to a press release. The Locust Emergency and Food Security (LEAFS) project would carry out its activities in 18 districts: nine in Baluchistan, four in Punjab, four in Sindh, and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Meanwhile, Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhar Imam claimed that the impact of desert locusts on the country’s agriculture had been minimised to some extent, and that by and large the situation was under control. The joint efforts of the ministry of national food security and research, the National Locust Control Centre (NLCC), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the provincial governments, the Pakistan Army, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), and the survey group under the engineering-in-chief of the Pakistan Army had helped stabilise the situation to a great extent in majority of the affected areas, he added. According to the minister, 20 dedicated aircraft would be used in the operation to control desert locusts. The government would be buying six aircraft, while the remaining would be hired on lease. Imam stated that the Department of Plant Protection had a well-established fleet of 20 aircraft before devolution, but 16 of those machines had become dysfunctional, and one of the four remaining had crashed in February this year, a tragedy in which the pilot and an engineer were killed. Two pilots had been engaged and their training had been completed, the minister added according to a statement released to the press. The World Bank-funded project’s objectives would include controlling locust outbreak, mitigating the negative social and economic impact associated with it, and strengthening the national food security system. The ministry of national food security and research would be responsible for the project’s implementation along with provincial governments, the Department of Plant Protection, the NLCC, and the NDMA. The ministry would take up the role for overall co-ordination of project implementation through establishing a federal project steering committee, responsible for approval of annual work plans, monitoring and review of financial reporting, third party validation if needed, mid-course corrections in the project, and re-allocation of funds. A component of the project relates to the livelihood protection and rehabilitation to provide a robust protection scheme that ensures immediate relief to affected farmers and livestock owners. A system would be ensured to strengthen national capacity for early warning and early response, linking these efforts to existing regional and provincial locust surveillance and control networks. A project management unit would be established to ensure monitoring and evaluation to ensure project implementation. The primary beneficiaries of the project would be farmers and agricultural labourers living in areas prone to desert locust infestation. For these groups, the proposed project would prevent locust infestations from damaging their livelihoods and provide compensatory income support.
The present government needs to review its performance: not necessarily in a public manner, but it has to see where course correction is needed. This was said by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations Dr Maleeha Lodhi, while answering a question put to her by Dr Huma Baqai at a Zoom meeting organised by Lightstone Publishers Ltd on Friday evening. Baqai started off the conversation by talking about the research that she had recently done on Lodhi, part of which was about the fact that she was one of the 100 women going to “influence the 21st century”. Lodhi said that that was a reference to a Time magazine article in the 1990s and remarked that “you should not believe everything you read”. This brought the host to Lodhi’s days as editor of The News, when she refused to take a half-page advertisement and ran a report instead. Lodhi replied that she used to push back very hard as editor: “There’s always tension in every newspaper between the commercial and the editorial sides.” At that time media mogul Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman said to her that “you keep challenging me”, and she responded: “I don’t have a choice, you’ve made me the editor, and I have to do my job.” In today’s context the former ambassador said that “we’ve gone through ups and downs, and this is the freedom that the media has brought in Pakistan, it’s not given to the media”. Lodhi explained that there have been phases in which media freedom has been under assault. Even today there are unspoken restrictions on the media, which are different from the past [martial law period]. The media has played a key role in Pakistan’s democratisation; without it there would’ve been no democracy in Pakistan. Answering a question on multilateralism, Lodhi first pointed out that one of her memorable moments in life was her meeting with Nelson Mandela in London. During the conversation with him, he constantly kept talking about hope and stressed on idealism – that the young generation must be idealistic. Lodhi then stated that multilateralism is facing a huge challenge, mostly coming from the United States; but it’s not just the US, other countries, too, are challenging it. Multilateralism is in crisis, but “in a way it is like democracy, which is the worst form of governance except for everything else”. She rejected the idea of a new Cold War with reference to the China-US tussle. On the issue of Kashmir, Lodhi said that Pakistan has had a consistent policy on Kashmir [in the UN]. Every Pakistani government has done whatever it could to make sure the issue of Kashmir is kept alive and remained on the UN Security Council agenda. When she was at the UN, she used every avenue to highlight the Kashmir issue. Referring to the Justice Qazi Faez Isa reference, Lodhi said that the Supreme Court verdict on Friday made it a great day for the rule of law in Pakistan. The reference against Isa was ill-conceived, she said. “This is the judge of the highest integrity. The Supreme Court has shown that it can give judgments independently.” Lodhi also said that the present government needs to review its performance. “It doesn’t have to do it publicly and see where course correction is needed. Nobody’s perfect. There’s always room to improve,” she said. “They are new, so the benefit of the doubt is with them.” However, “there’s nothing more appealing to people than humility”. She gave the example of New Zealand’s prime minister [Jacinda Ardern] who has successfully handled the coronavirus pandemic; the public complied with the lockdown because she showed humility, empathy and compassion. On the Afghanistan situation, Lodhi said that the agreement between the US and the Taliban is about the US withdrawal [from the region] and the Taliban ensuring that they will not permit Afghan soil to be used as a staging ground for an attack against any other country. Replying to the question about India winning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, she said that both India and Pakistan have won elections. Lodhi pointed out that this does have implications for the Kashmir issue, because a non-permanent member can do a lot of things behind the scenes. Pakistan will have to be alert, and make sure it has enough friends in the council. Commenting on the recent India-China border skirmish, she said this border region has always been a tense one. However, she said, both countries want to step back from any wider conflict. India under Modi has tried to follow a “muscular” policy and countries have pushed back against it.
The year’s first solar eclipse was witnessed across Pakistan. According to the advisory of ministry of science and technology, it was not safe to look directly at the sun during the eclipse as it can seriously damage retina of eyes. In Sukkur, the sun was hidden the most – 98.78% – at 11.07am. It was followed by Gwadar, where the moon covered 97% of the sun by 10.48am. The eclipse was also visible in Islamabad from 9.50am to 1.36pm (peaking at 11.25am), in Karachi from 9.26am to 12.46pm (peaking at 10.59am), in Lahore from 9.48am to 1.10pm (peaking at 11.26am), in Peshawar from 9.48am to 1.02pm (peak at 11.21am), in Quetta from 9.35am to 12.49pm (peaking at 11.06am), in Gilgit from 9.56am to 1.08pm (peaking at 11.30am), and in Muzaffarabad from 9.52am to 1.07pm (peaking at 11.26am). The annular eclipse was also seen in many other countries. “An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon covers the sun’s centre, leaving the sun’s outer edges to form a ‘ring of fire’, or annulus, around the moon,” said Nadeem Faisal, who heads the Met department’s climate data processing centre. This is the first of the two solar eclipses this year. The second eclipse will occur on December 14, but it will not be visible in Pakistan. Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry had cautioned the public against looking directly at the eclipse as it can damage the eyes.
World Refugee Day was observed yesterday across the globe to remind the world that everyone can contribute to society, and that every action counts in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world and the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with about 70.8mn people around the world forced from home by conflict and persecution. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in his message on this occasion, said that World Refugee Day is a yearly reminder of importance of peace, prevention and resolution of conflicts that are the main reasons for forced displacement of millions of people. This year, the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the vulnerabilities of those already displaced by violence and conflicts. Qureshi said that over the past forty years, the people of Pakistan have demonstrated exemplary generosity, solidarity and compassion in hosting millions of Afghan refugees. He said that these humane values have shaped Pakistan’s inclusive policies in public health, education, livelihoods and social mobility. The minister said Pakistan’s coronavirus response has been inclusive, wherein our health and other services are being utilised by Afghan refugees without discrimination. He said that Pakistan has led efforts in advocacy, awareness-raising and good practices in caring for and protecting one of the largest protracted refugee populations in the world. Qureshi said that Pakistan hosted an International Afghan Refugee Conference in Islamabad to mark 40 years of the Afghan refugees’ presence in the country, and seeking to find durable solutions to the protracted Afghan refugee situation. He said that Pakistan values the commendable work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worldwide, and looks forward to the positive response to the UNHCR’s appeals for Afghan refugees and host communities in Pakistan. The minister said that Pakistan renews its call for adherence to the principle of global burden and responsibility sharing, commitment to pursuing durable solutions, and an early peaceful settlement in Afghanistan that paves the way for time-bound, gradual, well-resourced and mutually-agreed framework for the repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland.
Pakistan on Saturday resumed international flight operations in the country, after months of a suspension imposed to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The government "is pleased to authorize international flight operations to and from Pakistan from all international airports from June 20," Abdul Satttar Khokhar, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement late Friday. The permissions may be subject to restrictions from time to time based on the evolving Covid-19 scenario and implementation of health protocols. Flights will remain suspended at two airports in the southern province of Balochistan that include Gwadar and Turbat, the statement said. The decision was taken to expedite the process of bringing back tens of thousands of Pakistanis stuck abroad, Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security told media ahead of the decision. Pakistan had suspended international flights in March to control the spread of coronavirus in the country. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rose to 171,664 on Saturday, and related deaths reached 3,382. At least 6,600 new cases and 153 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed. Hospitals in Pakistan are struggling to cope with overwhelming coronavirus infections as they are running out of beds, even though the country is still at least a month away from the projected peak of the pandemic.
Nobel Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai, who moved to Britain after being shot for campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan, described her joy yesterday at graduating from Oxford University. Almost eight years after she was attacked by the Taliban on her school bus in the Swat Valley, the 22-year-old posted photos on Twitter of her celebrations with her family. “Hard to express my joy and gratitude right now as I completed my Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree at Oxford,” she said. “I don’t know what’s ahead. For now, it will be Netflix, reading and sleep.” The photos show Yousafzai covered in brightly coloured bits of paper and foam – a student tradition – and having a cake with her family, decorated with the words “Happy Graduation Malala”. She first rose to prominence aged just 11 with a blog for the BBC’s Urdu-language service, charting her life in Swat under the Taliban. Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban hitman in October 2012, and after being flown to Britain for life-saving medical treatment, the family settled in Birmingham, central England. She was at school there when she heard in 2014 that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. The youngest-ever Nobel laureate, she has continued to speak out for girls’ education.
Three consecutive explosions claimed by a little-known separatist group killed four people, including two soldiers, in Sindh yesterday, officials said. At least a dozen people were also injured. Shadowy secessionist organisation the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, which wants the province to break from the Pakistani federation, said it carried out the attacks. One of the blasts was in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the capital of Sindh, where a civilian died and eight others including a paramilitary soldier were injured. Police believe the target was a vehicle of the Sindh Rangers paramilitary force parked outside. According to the Superintendent of Police Central Aslam Rao, the incident occurred at a college in Liaquatabad No 10, where cash under the Ehsaas programme was being distributed among the needy. According to Rao, in the hand grenade attack, a Rangers officer was also wounded. The attack caused damage to a Rangers’ vehicle parked nearby, said the officer, who added that those injured include people who had gathered to withdraw cash under the programme. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said that those who attacked the cash programme centre “will not be forgiven”. The second blast was reported in Ghotki district, 500km north of Karachi, where two Rangers soldiers died along with a passerby, local police chief Furrukh Ali told Reuters. Deputy Superintendent of Police Hafiz Qadir said that Rangers personnel were buying meat at the market where the attack took place. He said that the bodies and wounded have been moved to District Hospital Ghotki. The third blast took place in Sindh’s Larkana district, where no casualties were reported. The Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army has carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks, but its separatist fight has been less violent than that of neighbouring Baluchistan province. “Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army claims the responsibility of Karachi, Ghotki and Larkana attacks,” it tweeted, without giving more details. The Rangers, a wing of the Pakistan Army, have been deployed around Pakistan and played a prominent role in crackdowns on militant and criminals in Karachi. Sindh’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah ordered an inquiry into yesterday’s violence.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged the nation to stay united and steadfast in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. Visiting the National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) for Covid-19 in Islamabad, the prime minister said that we need a unified and well-co-ordinated joint response to fight the disease during the next couple of months. He urged the people to strictly follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain the spread of the virus. Khan also urged upon the public to exercise caution in social distancing and protect elderly and sick persons, particularly those suffering from heart-related diseases and diabetes. He directed the concerned departments to take all efforts to control the spread pf the disease, besides ensuring the availability of medicines, oxygen supplies, and beds in hospitals. Lauding the role of NCOC, the prime minister said that Pakistan is facing the challenge of Covid-19 in a balanced manner while keeping in view related factors. He said that media has performed with responsibility and stressed that any tendency to sensationalise the situation must be self-regulated. Participants of the meeting expressed the resolve to continue the strategy of balance between life and livelihood. It was reiterated that while businesses must remain open, strict implementation of SOPs will be ensured through awareness and administrative actions. The chief ministers of the provinces as well as the Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) prime minister briefed the forum about the steps being taken in their respective areas and unanimously acknowledged the support provided by the federal government in all respects. Meanwhile, the prime minister has directed that efforts be expedited to formulate a uniform education syllabus and its implementation, stressing that ending the educational “apartheid” in the country is a priority of his government. He gave these directions while chairing a meeting in Islamabad to review progress on reforms in the education system. Khan also ordered augmented efforts to implement the plan to help seminaries and madrassahs join the mainstream, especially in terms of imparting modern education to students. In view of the coronavirus pandemic, Khan urged a joint future strategy in consultation with the provincial education ministers regarding the education and teaching process. He was briefed on the progress made so far on efforts for introducing a uniform syllabus, reforms in seminaries and the higher education sector, and promoting the initiative of a skilled Pakistan workforce. It was revealed that a consensus curriculum has been formulated from class one to class five, which will be implemented from April next year. In addition, relevant stakeholders are being consulted to formulate the syllabus for sixth to eighth grade. On various initiatives such as tele-schooling to continue the education system despite the closure of educational institutions due to the pandemic, Khan was informed that an estimated 7-8mn students are benefiting from this facility. An e-learning portal is also being launched, while Radio Pakistan will be tapped to help educate students in the remote areas of the country. The meeting was also given a detailed briefing on various initiatives to improve the education system in the country, with the co-operation of international organisations. Prime Minister Khan also issued directives to be taken against the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) that have been found responsible for the “artificial” petrol crisis, saying that those found guilty of hoarding should be arrested. Sources said that the country’s petroleum crisis had been declared as “artificial”. The report on this crisis has been submitted to the prime minister and the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA). According to the report, nine OMCs deliberately “created” the crisis. Oil director-general Dr Shafi Afridi and Petroleum Division officials failed in discharging their duties, the report added. Khan directed that action be taken against these companies and those found responsible in petroleum crisis, and that the those found guilty of supplying hoarded petrol to the market be arrested. He warned that the petroleum crisis would not be tolerated. The licences of the companies involved in the petroleum crisis should be suspended or revoked, the prime minister said. He suggested that it may be made mandatory that all oil marketing companies must ensure stocks for 21 days. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has meanwhile issued notices to the ministry of petroleum, Pakistan State Oil (PSO), the OGRA, and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on a petition filed against the crackdown on OMCs. Zoom Petroleum (Pvt) Limited, a subsidiary of the Mehar Group of Companies (Pvt) Limited, filed the petition against the Fuel Crisis Committee and the ongoing crackdown on OMCs allegedly responsible for the massive fuel shortage in the country. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the petition. In the petition, the petitioner requested the court to set aside the ministry of petroleum’s June 8 and 9 notifications, announcing tough government action against all OMCs for allegedly creating an artificial shortage of petroleum products in the country. Zoom Petroleum (Pvt) Limited further requested the Islamabad High Court to stop the government from taking any action against the company until final adjudication of the case. According to the petition, the inquiry committee had on June 12 summoned the chief executive officer of Zoom Petroleum (Pvt) Limited and charged him with hoarding and black marketing of petroleum products. On June 9, the government initiated an inquiry against the OMCs and constituted the Fuel Crisis Committee.
Coronavirus hotspots in Karachi are to be locked down, the city’s commissioner said. The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. In an update, Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Ali Shallwani said yesterday that a decision was made to lock down the metropolis’ sensitive areas by 7pm. The move came in light of a report from the Karachi deputy commissioner that determined the coronavirus hotspots. Shallwani issued a notification with details of the areas to be locked down to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Any movement in the restricted hotspot areas would be banned during the lockdown, the update mentioned. A day prior, the deputy commissioners of three of Karachi’s districts had identified the hotspots. All 43 union councils (UCs) in the West, East, and Korangi districts were recommended to be locked down. More than 157,000 infections and 3,000 deaths have been reported due to the coronavirus all over Pakistan, with close to 60,000 cases in both Sindh and Punjab. Earlier this week, the National Co-ordination and Operation Centre (NCOC) had issued a list of 20 cities identified as coronavirus hotspots across Pakistan and, a day later, certain areas of the major cities were under “smart lockdown”. “A total of 20 cities across Pakistan have been identified as having likely increase in ratio/speed of infection, which needs restrictive measures for containment,” a statement by the NCOC issued on Monday read. In Sindh’s Ghotki, four areas have been sealed and Section 188 imposed after it was identified as one of the areas. The cities identified by the NCOC were Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Swat, Hyderabad, Sukkar, Sialkot, Gujarat, Ghotki, Larkana, Khairpur, DG Khan, Malakand, and Mardan. The NCOC noted that the test, trace and quarantine (TTQ) strategy was aimed at identifying disease spread, focused clusters/hotspots to enable targeted lockdowns and need-driven resource optimisation at all levels. A few day ago, National Information Technology Board (NITB) chief executive Shabahat Ali Shah shared a geographical snapshot of the city’s coronavirus hotspots. Meanwhile, there has been a huge hue and cry on Pakistani Twitter and other media over the past two days, following Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid’s controversial but exasperated comments about Lahoris, whom she termed “ignorant”, and whose city is increasingly becoming the provincial hotspot for the coronavirus. Although she apologised for her remarks, Lahoris were enraged and obviously not letting the matter drop. Surprisingly, however, most people agree with the provincial health minister’s observation, so much so that according to a poll shared by a furious Ramiz Raja, the cricket commentator and former player, more than 80% of the respondents said they concurred with Rashid. “How many of you agree with Dr Yasmin Rashid, venting her feelings at the Covid-19 situation in Lahore that Lahori, I being a Lahori too, are a different species, one of their kind,” Raja wrote, using the poll option on Twitter to gauge the stance. More than 80% of thousands of Internet users who voted on the poll said that they agreed with Rashid that Lahoris “are a different species, one of their kind”. Numerous Twitter users have also shared their views separately. Weirdly, some Lahoris stubbornly refused to take this as a wake-up call to do better. Others took to correcting those offended by the minister’s comments, saying that Lahoris are really not adhering to the social distancing measures and the government’s efforts. Famed rapper Ali Gul Pir, on the other hand, posted a light-hearted video on the issue. On Monday night, the provincial minister had said that she sometimes thought “Lahoris [feel they] are a special creation of God who are never ready to listen”. She was criticising them for not practicing social distancing and for taking the deadly coronavirus lightly. “I don’t think there is any nation as ignorant as us. No matter how many times you tell them to take precautionary measures, they never follow instructions,” Rashid remarked, adding that people had thrown caution to the wind during the Eid al-Fitr.
An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad has sentenced three men to life in prison for their part in the killing of a Pakistani political leader who was stabbed to death in London in 2010, a government prosecutor said. The conviction was hailed as “ground-breaking” by British authorities who aided the trial. Imran Farooq, 50, was a founding member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, but had moved to London and had been inactive for about two years. He was stabbed and beaten to death in Edgware, northwest London as he returned home from work in September 2010. The judgment was read by Judge Shahrukh Arjumand as the accused appeared before the court through a video link. “The prosecution has succeeded in proving the case against all three of you,” he remarked at the hearing yesterday. The accused, Khalid Shamim, Mohsin Ali and Mauzzam Ali, have been in Adiala jail ever since they were arrested. The court also issued perpetual arrest warrants for MQM founder Altaf Hussain, Iftikhar Hussain, Mohamed Anwar, and Kashif Kamran. Khalid Shamim, Mohsin Ali and Mauzzam Ali were sentenced to life in prison on “charges of murder under conspiracy and abetment”, special public prosecutor Khawaja Imtiaz told AFP. The special public prosecutor said the judge also concluded that the murder had been ordered by MQM party chief Altaf Hussain – currently in exile in the UK – and called on the Pakistani and British governments to produce him before a court for trial. The three accused were members of the party. Besides their life sentences, the three were each fined Rs1mn ($6,050), the prosecutor, Khawaja Mohamed Imtiaz, told reporters. The London Metropolitan police said in a statement that the conviction followed “a ground-breaking agreement between the UK and Pakistan” enabling evidence gathered by British police to be shared with Pakistani prosecutors and presented as part of the case. Britain had its officers testify at the trial, according Barrister Toby Cadman, counsel to the Pakistani government. The collaboration followed a “temporary change” to Pakistani law to provide that the death penalty would not be used in cases where evidence had been transferred from a state where capital punishment is prohibited, the Met statement said. In Pakistan, murder usually carries the death penalty. Khawaja Imtiaz said that the trial was a first for Pakistan and had set a legal precedent. “There are hardly any examples in the world that an offence is committed in one country and the trial is conducted in another,” he said. Farooq’s death marked the start of cracks in the leadership of the MQM. Critics of the MQM – once the most powerful political force in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi – have claimed that the killing of Farooq was linked to an internal dispute in the party, which has been run from London by Hussain for over two decades. The MQM have strongly denied the claims. The party later split into several factions – one of which is a coalition member of the current Pakistani government. The party represents Urdu-speaking migrants from India who settled in Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent at the end of British rule in 1947. “Today’s conviction marks a team effort between law agencies in the UK and Pakistan working together to get justice for the murder of Dr Imran Farooq,” said British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner. Farooq was twice elected as an MP in Pakistan, but went into hiding in 1992 when the government ordered a military crackdown against party activists, and claimed asylum in Britain in 1999. He was wanted in Pakistan on scores of charges including torture and murder related to the MQM’s activities, but always claimed the accusations were politically-motivated. The MQM was blamed for years of fomenting ethnic violence in the sprawling city. It clashed repeatedly with authorities until security forces launched a “clean-up” operation in 2013. The MQM lost its hold on Karachi during 2018’s general election. The court in its detailed order stated that it had been proven that MQM founder Altaf Hussain gave the orders to murder Farooq. “Two senior leaders of MQM-London brought this message to Pakistan,” said the court in its 39-page order. It added that Moazzam Ali picked the other two from the then-MQM headquarters Nine Zero. “Mohsin Ali and Kashif Kamran were selected for murdering Imran Farooq,” said the order, adding that both were taken to London and given support to carry out the crime. According to the judgment, the sole purpose of the murder on the orders of the MQM founder was to remove political opponents within the party. “The aim of the murder was to ensure that no one raises the voice against the party founder,” said the order.
Death toll from Covid-19 reached 731 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after 24 more people, including Dr Abbas Tariq, head of anaesthesia department at THE Institute of Kidney Disease, passed away due to the virus. Dr Tariq was admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex on June 5 where he showed signs of improvement. He was shifted to Institute of Kidney Disease (IKD). His condition deteriorated and was put on ventilator support but couldn’t survive. Dr Abbas, in his mid-50s, is the seventh doctor, who has died of Covid-19 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, according to Provincial Doctors Association. A health department report on Covid-19 said that 635 new patients were detected in the province, raising overall count of cases in the province to 19,107. Peshawar recorded 14 deaths from the pandemic, the highest number of people killed by the virus in the provincial capital in a single day since the advent of the epidemic so far. The number of deaths due to Covid-19 in Peshawar stands at 366 or 50% of the province-wide mortalities. It reported 170 new Covid-19 patients, raising total number of cases in the district to 6,563. The city is leading both in terms of confirmed Covid-19 patients as well as number of people fallen to the pandemic so far. Two persons succumbed to the infection in Kohat district where number of dead persons reached 23. The district also diagnosed 85 new patients and number of total cases reached 377. Mardan, Swabi, Buner, Dir Lower, Dir Upper, Malakand, Kurram and Bannu recorded one death each, raising the number of mortalities in these districts to 40, 15, 19, 9, 27, five and three respectively. Abbottabad reported 56 new cases where total confirmed patients are now 760. The district has also recorded 34 deaths from the Covid-19 so far. In Swat, where 64 persons have fallen to the virus so far, 42 more persons tested positive for coronavirus making its total count 1,797. The district has been second on the scorecard of deaths and positive cases of Covid-19 after Peshawar. Malakand reported 28 new cases that made total of number virus-affected people in the district 1,010. Khyber, Nowshera, Charsadda, Mansehra and Bajaur confirmed 27, 24, 16, 14 and 12 cases respectively. The total count of confirmed cases in these districts is now 523, 439, 520, 275 and 435 respectively. Battagram also reported 27 new patients where total cases reached 219. The district has reported 12 deaths from the pandemic so far. The report indicated that 235 people, who tested positive for Covid-19, were declared recovered. So far, 4,922 patients have recovered from the infectious ailment. So far, 1,937 persons have recovered from Covid-19 in Malakand division; 1,028 in Peshawar; 511 in Mardan; 472 in Hazara; 311 in Kohat; 130 in Dera Ismail Khan; and 85 in Bannu. Meanwhile, a health department statement said that a total of 32 ventilated ICU beds and 144 HDU beds for Covid-19 patients were provided during the last 10 days to the provincial hospitals to cater to the load of the patients It said that 19 ventilated ICU beds and 11 HDU beds were provided to Lady Reading Hospital, five ventilated ICU beds to Hayatabad Medical Complex and 36 HDU beds to Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar where most of the Covid-19 patients were being treated.
Pakistan’s renowned TV/Radio host, film actor, politician Tariq Aziz passed away due to cardiac arrest in Lahore yesterday. He was 84. He began his professional career from Radio Pakistan Lahore and was one of the most recognisable voices on radio. He was the first announcer of PTV. Tariq Aziz was known for his work on PTV’s Quiz Show Neelam Ghar, first aired in 1974, later renamed the Tariq Aziz Show and also known as Bazm-e-Tariq Aziz. His hosting skills on the show Neelam Ghar made him a household name in Pakistan over the past four decades in the country. Aziz was also a former parliamentarian and a respected poet. He had been member of the National Assembly of Pakistan between 1997 and 1999. Tariq Aziz also acted in a number of films in the late 1960s and 1970s in side-roles. One of his famous movies was Salgira (1969) which was a highly successful musical movie and won two Nigar Awards for that year. He was awarded Pride of Performance Award by the President of Pakistan in 1992 for his services to the nation. Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed grief and sorrow over the sad demise of Tariq Aziz. In a condolence message, the Prime Minister said that Tariq Aziz was an icon in his time and a pioneer of our TV game shows.
Certain areas of major cities across Pakistan are under a ‘smart lockdown’, after the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) issued a list of 20 cities identified as Covid-19 hotspots across the country. Parts of Islamabad and Peshawar have been sealed with major areas of Lahore set to go under lockdown. Moreover, areas identified in Swat include Bahrain, Matta, Babuzai, Kabal, Barikot, Khariri, Gwalerai and Odigram. Other tehsils (administrative divisions) identified by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department include UC Qambar, Saeedoshareef, Breekot Gharbi, Quetta Sharki, Kozabandi and Madin. More than 489 people have been infected in these areas, the provincial health department said. In Peshawar, the four areas that have identified as coronavirus hotspots were sealed with both outgoing and incoming ways sealed. Lockdown has been imposed in Ahsrafia Colony, Channa Road, Danishabad and Hayatabad in Phase 1/Sector E-1. Police have been deployed in the areas with markets except for grocery stores and medical stores. Similarly, in Sindh’s Ghotki, four areas have been sealed and section 188 imposed after it was identified as one of the areas. “A total of 20 cities across Pakistan have been identified as having likely increase in ratio/speed of infection which needs restrictive measures for containment,” a statement by the NCOC had said. Pakistan has reported over 148,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths so far from the novel coronavirus. In Islamabad, authorities have already sealed G-9/2 and G-9/3 for having over 300 cases. While I-8, I-10, Ghauri Town, Bharakhau, G6 and G7 were being monitored, the NCOC had said. The other cities identified by the NCOC are Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Swat, Hyderabad, Sukkar, Sialkot, Gujarat, Ghotki, Larkana, Khairpur, DG Khan, Malakand and Mardan. The NCOC shared that the TTQ strategy is aimed at identifying disease spread, focused clusters/hotspots to enable targeted lockdowns and need-driven resource optimisation at all levels. Addressing reporters, provincial Health Minister Yasmin Rashid had announced that a complete lockdown would be imposed in some areas of Lahore due to rising coronavirus cases being reported in the provincial capital. “Many areas of Lahore will be shut down 12am onwards from tomorrow,” said the minister. She added that the areas that will experience a complete lockdown include Shahdra, Shad Bagh, Mazang, Harbanspura, Old Lahore, Nishtar Ground, and cantonment. Meanwhile, some areas in Gulberg would also be closed completely and some societies in Lahore’s Iqbal Town as well. “Food stores and pharmacies will remain open in these areas,” clarified the minister, adding that the areas will undergo a complete lockdown for at least two weeks. She added that these areas will be reopened after t the situation is assessed. In Punjab, Lahore is the worst affected city and has reported over 27,000 cases.
Pakistan has warned that the number of coronavirus cases in the country could double by the end of June and peak at more than 1mn infections just a month later. The warning from Planning Minister Asad Umar comes as many in the country continue to ignore guidance on social distancing, hygiene and other measures to tackle the disease. Pakistan currently has confirmed nearly 140,000 cases of Covid-19, with the death toll approaching 2,700. The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus. The authorities have ramped up testing, but this nonetheless remains limited, so real numbers are thought to be higher. “Expert estimates say the number of confirmed cases could go up to 300,000 by the end of June if we keep on flouting SOPs (standard operating procedures) and taking the problem lightly,” said Umar, who is helping co-ordinate the government’s coronavirus response. “We fear the number of confirmed cases could go up further to 1.2mn by end of next month,” he told reporters in Islamabad. After initially lagging infection rates in Western nations, Pakistan and other South Asian countries are experiencing a surge in cases. Pakistan’s increase comes after people violated government restrictions and thronged mosques and markets – mostly without masks and gloves – during Ramadan and ahead of the Eid festival last month. Since the start of Pakistan’s outbreak in March, Prime Minister Imran Khan has opposed a nationwide lockdown of the sort seen elsewhere, arguing that the impoverished country could not afford it. Instead, Pakistan’s four provinces ordered a patchwork of closures, but even those restrictions have now been lifted. Umar said hotspot areas such as Lahore are now subject to “smart” lockdowns, in which authorities attempt to track coronavirus patients and limit who they come into contact with. “The government has decided to go for smart lockdowns by tracking hotspots and then sealing them. This will start from Punjab province,” he said. The authorities in Islamabad have already locked down at least one neighbourhood after tracking 200 confirmed coronavirus cases in just one day on Friday. Healthcare staff began tracing the contacts of previously reported patients living in G-9 sector of Islamabad. Two sub-sectors of G-9, G-9/2 and G-9/3, and the sector’s markaz known as Karachi Company, were sealed at midnight because of the spread of the coronavirus among local residents. Deputy Commissioner Mohamed Hamza Shafqaat said that a team of healthcare and capital administration officials have begun tracing the contacts of confirmed patients who live in the sealed sub-sectors. Once traced, they will be quarantined and tested for Covid-19. He said the areas were sealed to prevent patients there from transmitting the disease to others and spreading the virus in other areas. Residents of both sub-sectors will be screened for symptoms, and those with symptoms will be quarantined and tested. Shafqaat said that during a visit to G-9 to check on the implementation of lockdown SOPs, police officers stationed in the area were found not to be wearing masks or taking other precautions. The deputy commissioner said that masks and other protective equipment had been arranged and provided to them. They were also provided food to limit contact with residents, Shafqaat said. Daily-wage workers who live in the area are also being monitored, he said, and so far there has not been an issue regarding essential items for them. However, trucks carrying essentials from utility stores have been arranged for residents. Shops selling essentials such as groceries and green groceries, baked goods, meat and dairy products are also allowed to open. These shops are also under surveillance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Shafqaat said. Mosques are closed and ulema are co-operating with the administration. Hospitals across Pakistan say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning Covid-19 patients away.