ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday said it has emerged that coronavirus cases of the new variant Omicron are "the highest in Karachi, especially in school going children".
The minister was addressing a post-cabinet meeting press conference alongside Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar, during which he briefed the media on major decisions taken by the federal cabinet.
He said that the cabinet was given a briefing regarding the Omicron situation in the country during which it was told that the total number of cases in the country has now crossed 5,000 — a 2.5-fold increase in cases.
Furthermore, a 30% increase in admissions to intensive care units has been witnessed, Chaudhry said.
Citing the importance of vaccinations, he said Omicron has shown a "negligible effect" on people who are fully vaccinated (having received two doses) and those who have even received booster shots.
"And where there have been no vaccinations, the effect is very pronounced," the minister said.
Chaudhry said that Sindh lags behind the most in terms of vaccinations and so does Karachi, city-wise.
He said the government had spent $2 billion on the import of vaccines, and the major portion of the current account deficit comprises imports of medicines, including vaccines for coronavirus.
Speaking of the Opposition, he said it was only focused on hatching conspiracies against the government despite the latter's constant efforts to engage them on major reforms.
“We want to engage the Opposition on electoral and judicial reforms, and the process for the appointment of the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) chairman, but reforms are not the priority of Opposition leaders,” the minister said.
Chaudhry said he, the National Assembly speaker and the prime minister had invited the Opposition to negotiate on those three fronts, but unfortunately, their leaders only seek to topple the government.
With regard to criticism of the government by PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz the minister said "even her own children laugh at her remarks".
Responding to a query about the boom in media ad revenue, he said the journalists should ask from their elected representatives as to why they were still facing exploitation.
He said he had worked out a law to protect journalists’ rights, regretting a systematic campaign launched against him on the initiative.
“It is difficult to fight the mafias,” he said, urging media houses to share their financial details if they had any objection on his statement about an increase in media spending.
The minister said the cabinet discussed the establishment of special technology zones as new technology is vital for the country's development. Setting up such zones would create job opportunities, besides increase IT exports, he said.
He said the cabinet also discussed the issue of effective legislation and the effective role of Parliament in the nation building process.
The bill regarding State Bank of Pakistan’s autonomy would be tabled in the Senate soon, which would hopefully adopt it, he added.
The cabinet asked the National Assembly and Senate secretariats to avoid nominating members having conflicts of interest for various parliamentary committees, he said.
It was observed that contractors and builders became members of the committees on communication, and those owning information technology firms joined the committees concerning information technology, he added.
He said the Ministry of Industries and Production briefed the meeting about urea production and its availability in the country.
There was record production of urea in Pakistan during the current year, whereas wheat was cultivated on 0.5 million acres of land and its price in the international market was six times as high, the minister said.
Despite some pressure, urea was available in most parts of the country as a bumper wheat crop was expected, he added.
Chaudhry said the cabinet also discussed in detail the country's power transmission system, and Azhar informed the cabinet about the ongoing steps to control line losses.
The cabinet was told that this would be the first year in which circular debt would start coming down substantively.
The information minister said the SBP Amendment Bill was essential for economic recovery and structural reforms.
During a discussion on the protection of the green cover of big cities, the cabinet was informed that before 2018, a marked reduction in the number of green areas and trees was noticed.
The measures taken by the government after 2018 not only increased the number of trees in Islamabad but also reclaimed its green cover, he said, adding steps were also taken to retrieve state land from the mafia.
The prime minister directed that the master plan of all major cities be finalised as soon as possible, with a focus to increase the number of green areas and trees in urban areas.
The minister said a committee had been formed to decide on the extension of protocols against smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air.
The cabinet gave an extension to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2005 Convention on protecting and promoting cultural diversity, he said.
He further said the approval for Pakistan Railways Freight Transportation Company’s board of directors was also given by the forum. It includes Abdar Khan, Naveed Arshad, Tayyba Rashid, Farrukh Shaukat Ansari and Prof Dr Fakhra Khan.
Likewise, the cabinet okayed the reconstitution of the board of directors of Railway Construction Pakistan Limited to include Azam Adil Sheikh, Shahid Aziz, Fareedu Din Ahmed and others.
He said the annual report of National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) was also presented to the cabinet.
It was the first time in the last 24 years that the report was presented on time.
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