Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday, two days after receiving his first vaccine dose, government officials said, urging people not to be deterred from getting vaccinated.
Pakistan’s vaccination roll-out has been met with widespread vaccine hesitancy, and Khan’s positive test could serve as a setback to the inoculation drive in the country of 220 million people, health experts said.
Health Minister Faisal Sultan said Khan was “in good health” with a mild cough and fever and was self-isolating at home, adding the 68-year-old premier had likely been infected much before he got his first vaccine shot on Thursday.
Sultan told local television people should not link the prime minister’s coronavirus infection with the vaccine, which takes times to build antibodies.
While it was not clear which vaccine Khan was given, the vaccine produced by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) is the only one available in Pakistan.
Khan expressed concern after his positive test result that it could deter ordinary people from getting vaccinated, his adviser Shahbaz Gill told a local television.
He said Khan, who has been seen attending regular gatherings — often without wearing a mask, had mild symptoms.
Asad Umar, the minister in-charge of the country’s Covid-19 operations, said in a tweet it was “certain that PM had been infected prior to vaccination”.
“So please do vaccinate,” Umar added.
Vaccine hesitancy is common in Pakistan, and earlier this month, a poll showed that hesitancy was also high among healthcare workers — particularly over Chinese vaccines.
Khan’s positive test comes as Pakistan sees a steep rise in infections.
According to numbers released by government, 3,876 people tested positive in the last 24 hours — the highest number of daily infections since early July — taking the total number of infections in the country past 620,000.
There were also 42 more deaths, taking the total to 13,799.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished his Pakistani counterpart a “speedy recovery” from Covid-19, in a new sign of a thaw between the neighbours.
Since agreeing to halt hostilities on their disputed Kashmir border last month, the nuclear-armed rivals have shown signs of wanting to improve relations.
Modi used the announcement that the 68-year-old Khan had tested positive for the coronavirus to make his gesture.
“Best wishes to Prime Minister Imran Khan for a speedy recovery from COVID-19,” the Hindu nationalist leader said on Twitter.
Modi regularly uses his rallies to lash out at Pakistan.
There have been no reported shellings on the Kashmir Line of Control, as the disputed frontier is known, since the accord came into effect on February 24.
Khan has since called for increased trade with India, while Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed said this week that the neighbours should “bury the past”.
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