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Corona resurge: Tough steps likely from today

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) will hold a special meeting today (Monday) to review issues ranging from imposing smart lockdowns to closing of schools and markets across the country in the face of deadly third wave of coronavirus pandemic.

By M Waqar Bhatti & News Desk & Noor Aftab
March 22, 2021

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) will hold a special meeting today (Monday) to review issues ranging from imposing smart lockdowns to closing of schools and markets across the country in the face of deadly third wave of coronavirus pandemic.

The participants of the meeting would evaluate the latest reports and statistics acquired from all the federating units along with Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

The issues of imposing smart lockdowns and closure of schools that are operating due to ongoing examinations will be thoroughly discussed in the meeting. The violations of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) introduced by the government to prevent spread of the coronavirus disease will also come under discussion.

The reports received so far showed grave violations of SOPs in markets, bazaars and shopping malls due to which the infection rate has reached to an alarming level. A senior doctor said the free public movement in the cities under lockdown reflected poor administration by both district and the police authorities.

He said the dining and indoor service in hotels were going unchecked, parks and markets were crowded, while most of the people were not bothering to wear masks and keep social distance. He also criticised the health authorities for not changing the home isolation policy and not expanding health services in the hospitals to increase the admission ratio.

The participants would also review imposition of Section 188 in Islamabad that would empower the local administration to arrest those shopkeepers and traders who are not following SOPs as directed by the government.

It is pertinent to mention here that NCOC chief Asad Umar shot down rumors of a complete lockdown to be imposed across the country, saying instead that targeted interventions may increase.

The coronavirus cases over the past couple of weeks have recorded a steep rise, as the UK variant reportedly has spread to many parts of Punjab. The meeting will also review the status of ongoing vaccination in the country and import of coronavirus vaccine doses from the foreign countries.

Meanwhile, the federal government has asked the pricing committee of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) to “reconsider and reassess” the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of Sputnik V vaccine doses after the firm which imported the vaccine expressed its dissatisfaction over the price recommended by the regulator, official said on Sunday.

“Federal government has directed the Drug Pricing Committee of the DRAP to reconsider the price of two doses of Sputnik V vaccine, which had recommended that it’s retail price should be Rs8449 in Pakistan,” an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) told The News on Sunday.

A private pharmaceutical firm AGP Limited had imported 50,000 doses of Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Pakistan on Wednesday last while government of Pakistan has placed the order for the purchase of 60,000 doses of single-dose Chinese vaccine Ad5-nCoV vaccine (Cansino Bio) for Covid-19, which is due in the next week.

The federal government official said drug pricing committee of the DRAP had analysed the landing prices of both the Russian and Chinese vaccines and recommended their prices to the cabinet, Rs8,449 for the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine and Rs4,225 for Convidecia, a single-shot product developed by CanSino Biologics Inc of China.

“An attempt was made to get these prices approved from the federal cabinet through circulation but the importing firm of Sputnik V expressed its dissatisfaction over price recommended by the DRAP, saying their landing cost of the two doses was US$45 while the DRAP’s pricing committee assumed it was $30 and recommended a price, which was not acceptable to them”, the official added.

The official maintained that AGP was expecting an MRP between Rs12,500-13,000 for two doses of their vaccine based on their landing cost, freight charges, cold storage and other expenses but added that it was upto the drug pricing committee to decide whether the it could be sold at the importer’s desired price or not.

Officials said 50,000 doses of Sputnik V were lying useless at the cold storage of the private firm for last five days, which could have been used to inoculate around 25000 people within a day while importer had assured authorities that they could import hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses in the country on weekly basis if appropriate price is fixed and orders are available.

At the same time, importers of China’s single dose Convedecia vaccine were quite satisfied with the price fixed by the DRAP of their product, saying their landing cost was just $13 while they had been given the price of Rs4,225, which is more than what they were expecting in Pakistan.

On the other hand, federal cabinet is unlikely to meet on its schedule weekly day of Tuesday due to illness of Prime Minister Imran Khan who was tested positive for COVID-19 day on Saturday as well as due to Pakistan Day activities on March 23, officials said adding cabinet meeting could be held on Wednesday, which was also not certain at this moment.

As of Sunday, there were 3,677 new coronavirus cases reported across the country. According to the NCOC, there were 44 coronavirus deaths reported on March 20, while the overall positivity ratio has increased to 8.7%. At present, there are 31,107 active coronavirus cases in the country.

The government has enhanced restrictions on several places and sealed restaurants and shops on violating SOPs in different parts of the country. While, the number of new COVID cases jumped to 2,033 in Punjab in 24 hours, the highest in a day so far in the province this year, taking the total number to 195,087.

However, despite the massive increase in the new infections the Punjab government did not enhance the percentage of COVID tests to gauge the actual disease burden in the province. The official figures showed that only 15,362 tests were performed by the health authority during 24 hours in Punjab, as medical experts suggest doubling the number given the third spike, besides starting random sampling.

The provincial capital, as per the statistics, reported 1,262 new positive cases during the same period, pushing the number of total cases in Lahore to 11,858. Meanwhile, the virus death toll has reached 5,942 in Punjab after 25 more patients succumbed to the infection during the last 24 hours. The experts say the current COVID wave may persist for some months and the only way to curb it is implementation of the given guidelines. They lamented that the Punjab government appeared non-serious in handling the current spike as it had almost suspended the awareness campaign across the province.

The Punjab Healthcare Commission on Saturday directed all the private hospitals in the province to increase the number of beds given the current surge in the number of COVID-19 patients. As per a directive issued to the administrations of the private hospitals treating the COVID-19 patients, these facilities have been asked to increase the number of beds in their isolation wards, high dependency units (HDUs), and intensive care units (ICUs) to treat the patients.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), along with other representative organisations, held a joint press conference in Lahore on Sunday and stressed the government to impose a full, countrywide lockdown to control the rising number of coronavirus cases.