Pakistan research body chief urges virus vigilance for Eid Al-Adha holiday

Pakistan research body chief urges virus vigilance for Eid Al-Adha holiday
A paramedic takes nasal swab samples from the glass booth as people waiting to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Karachi, Pakistan July 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 July 2020

Pakistan research body chief urges virus vigilance for Eid Al-Adha holiday

Pakistan research body chief urges virus vigilance for Eid Al-Adha holiday
  • Despite ‘plateauing’ in COVID-19 cases, government was not downplaying death toll: Head of research body

ISLAMABAD: The head of a Pakistani health research body has urged the public to stick to rules aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) especially during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha holiday.

Maj. Gen. Prof. Aamer Ikram, executive director of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH), warned of the vital need for people to continue to follow social-distancing guidelines, wear face masks, and adhere to other virus precautionary measures.

After reporting its first COVID-19 case in late February, Pakistan has to date officially recorded 255,769 infections, with 5,386 deaths.

Cases spiked in May after the government lifted an almost two-month-long lockdown, mostly over its economic and financial impact, and ahead of the Eid Al-Fitr festival. Instead, it imposed smart lockdowns in selected areas of several cities, saying that it feared COVID-19 cases could multiply eightfold by the end of July and hit 1.2 million.

“After Eid Al-Fitr, we witnessed a surge in COVID-19 positive cases. Now Eid Al-Adha is arriving, and by strictly adhering to standard operating procedures we can make a real difference,” Ikram told Arab News.

The government was not downplaying the true extent of the country’s COVID-19 death toll, he said, but the rate of infections had gone down in the last week and the virus curve had “plateaued.”

He added: “We cannot hide the number of deaths. If you see the statistics of the last one week, there is a reduction in the number of deaths.”

Ikram pointed out that Pakistani authorities wanted to ensure “data accuracy” and were vigilant in digging out any discrepancies in numbers.

The health official noted that data from the last 10 days showed that Pakistan had “attained the plateau and it is coming down now. The government’s strategy of smart lockdown has played a very pivotal role in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases.”

On Tuesday, Pakistan recorded 1,979 new cases of COVID-19, following 21,020 nationwide tests in 24 hours, marking the lowest number of new infections in weeks.

However, critics said the rate of infections had gone down because less testing was taking place.

“One of the reasons of reduction in tests is that the WHO (World Health Organization) has changed earlier policy of two mandatory negative tests of recovered patients, 24 hours apart, before discharging them from hospital, which is not required now,” Ikram said.

He added that Pakistan had previously been testing all incoming international passengers but was now only testing those who showed COVID-19 symptoms. “We are now only screening them, that also reduced the (testing) load.”

The NIH chief said Pakistan had been the first country in the region to start COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, initially conducting 300 tests per day but now carrying out more than 150,000 daily checks using 135 testing labs.

On Wednesday, the government’s COVID-19 portal showed that 21,749 tests had been conducted in the last 24 hours, with a running total of 1,627,939 tests since March.

Last month, Pakistan’s minister for science said the country would begin manufacturing testing kits locally from July. However, Ikram said indigenous kits were still under final evaluation and would be put out for commercial use after all mandatory protocols had been completed.

He added that the government was already working on preparing a strategy to acquire a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as one became available anywhere in the world.

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Afghan government, Taliban announce breakthrough deal to press on with peace talks

Updated 7 min ago

Afghan government, Taliban announce breakthrough deal to press on with peace talks

Afghan government, Taliban announce breakthrough deal to press on with peace talks
  • The agreement lays out the way forward for further discussion
  • Taliban insurgents have refused to agree to a cease-fire during the preliminary stages of talks

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban representatives said on Wednesday they had reached a preliminary deal to press on with peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war.
The agreement lays out the way forward for further discussion but is considered a breakthrough because it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a cease-fire.
“The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalized and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters.
The Taliban spokesman confirmed the same on Twitter.
The agreement comes after months of discussions in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in negotiations encouraged by the United States. In Afghanistan, the two sides are still at war, with Taliban attacks on government forces continuing unabated.
Taliban insurgents have refused to agree to a cease-fire during the preliminary stages of talks, despite calls from Western capitals and global bodies, saying that that would be taken up only when the way forward for talks was agreed upon.
UN envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons welcomed the “positive development” on Twitter, adding that “this breakthrough should be a springboard to reach the peace wanted by all Afghans.”
Last month, an agreement reached between Taliban and government negotiators was held up at the last minute after the insurgents balked at the document’s preamble because it mentioned the Afghan government by name.
The Taliban refused to refer to the Afghan negotiating team as representatives of the Afghan government, as they contest the legitimacy of the administration led by President Ashraf Ghani.