Talks with Chinese firm underway to procure Covid vaccine: Asad

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiative Asad Umar has said that the government is promptly taking decisions to procure the anti-Covid vaccine.

Briefing the media persons on Tuesday, Asad Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), said that talks are being held with a Chinese company for the procurement of the vaccine. The minister said that initially the vaccine will be administered to the healthcare staff which will be followed by other people.

He said 1.1 million coronavirus vaccine doses will be available in the country in March 2021 and front line workers including doctor’s paramedical staff will be vaccinated in the first phase.

Moreover, Asad Umar said that the government’s attempt to balance its coronavirus strategy between restrictions to curb the spread of the disease and protection of lives and livelihoods yielded fruit.

“Since the first day [of the outbreak in Pakistan], the prime minister told us to perform two responsibilities: to work to save the lives of the people and to save their jobs,” the minister said.

Asad Umar said the government opted for a smart lockdown policy in the wake of the first wave of Covid-19 to protect the lives and livelihoods. He said the complete lockdown policy adopted by some of the regional countries added to their economies woes.

Umar warned that several countries have been hit a third wave of the pandemic and appealed to the citizens to continue following government-devised standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain the disease.

He warned that Pakistan could face the devastating situation regarding Covid-19 if people do not adopt SOPs in letter and spirit.

During the presser, Umar also unveiled the results of a survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), highlighting the impact of the first wave of the pandemic on Pakistan’s economy.

According to the report, some 27.31 million of the country’s “working population” of people aged 10 and above were impacted between April and July 2020 due to the outbreak.

According to the survey, 55.74 million people 10 years and older were economically active prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. It said this had declined to 22 per cent — 35.04 million people — due to the lockdown restrictions.

The worst-hit province was Sindh, whose working population reduced from 38 percent pre-Covid to 23 per cent during. This was followed by Punjab with a 14 per cent decline, and Balochistan with an 11 per cent decline.

The report said that after July, the recovery process had started and 33 per cent of the national population had reported they were once more employed.

He observed the World Health Organisation (WHO), UN General Assembly (UNGA) president Volkan Bozkir and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation founder Bill Gates recognised the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Moreover, Asad Umar highlighted that the federal government had warned the public about the second wave of the virus in October.

“In November, we noticed a rapid increase in the number of cases and took steps at the end of November regarding sectors/activities that were responsible for the increase, including restaurants, marriage halls and educational institutions,” he added.

The federal minister said the first week of December 2020 saw fewer coronavirus cases. In the second week, there was an increase in the number of people put on ventilators and the third week again saw fewer cases.

EARLY FEBRUARY VACCINE: 

Separately, Dr Faisal Sultan, state minister for national health services, said the government was hopeful it would receive the first batch of the vaccine from China’s Sinopharm in “early February.”

The company has applied for registration to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), submitting the complete data of clinical trials of its vaccine to it.

“We hope to be able to get [vaccine doses from Sinopharm] in the first quarter of this year, hopefully starting in early February,” Dr Sultan told Arab News, adding that the government aimed to begin the process of vaccination within the first quarter of this year.

The government has already announced an intent to purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from China.

In December, the federal cabinet approved $250 million in funding to buy coronavirus vaccines, initially to cover the most vulnerable 5 per cent of the population, including the frontline health workers.

Meanwhile, the NCOC has announced to have opened registrations for frontline healthcare workers who are set to receive the first doses of the vaccine.

Staff in both public and private health facilities will be vaccinated, NCOC announced on its website and gave an elaborate definition for who qualified as a healthcare worker.

“All staff of Covid-19 hospitals (public and private sector) and isolation centers,” the notification said.

“All staff includes clerical, administrative and support staff [sanitary workers, guards] in addition to doctors, nurses, paramedics.”

The parliamentary health secretary told Radio Pakistan last week the government was expecting its first vaccine dose by the end of January, and that it was preparing a database of frontline health workers who would be vaccinated for free.

DEATH TOLL RISES:

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic claimed 41 more lives while 2,408 new infections were reported during the last 24 hours, said the NCOC on Tuesday.

According to the NCOC, 41 more deaths took the death toll to 10,717, while the national tally of cases now stands at 506,701. Around 3,606 patients recovered from the virus on Monday and the total count of active cases is 34,007. Overall 461,977 people have recovered from the deadly disease so far.

Around 2,340 patients are in critical condition including 54 whose health condition has been declared sensitive. A total of 40,088 tests were conducted across the country during the last twenty-four hours while 7,162,626 samples have been tested so far.

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