Thursday, April 2, 2020

Coronavirus Update: Sindh reports ninth death

By Mukhtar Alam 
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Sindh Health Minister, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, confirmed another death due to Coronavirus infection on April 1, disclosing that the 59-year-old-patient was a resident of Karachi, having been brought to the hospital on March 19 upon his return from Saudi Arabia. 

The patient had tested positive for corona the same day and was given the ventilator aid from his first day of admission at the hospital. The patient was also stated to have a history of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. 

On the other hand, the health authorities providing the daily Corona updates said that in all 33 new cases of corona infection were detected in Karachi on April 1 which brought the tally of Coronavirus patients to 709 in the province, out of which 55 have recovered their health. 

The total number of corona tests conducted in Sindh since February 26 was recorded as 6,948 as such the infection rate came as 10.20%.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Steel industry suggests extraordinary measures

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Fearing that the economic and business activities will deteriorate further in the country in the wake of global Coronavirus onslaught, a consortium of key players in the country’s steel sector has urged the government to take extraordinary measures leading to motivation of the depressed steel industry in the country. 

The joint body of steel industrialists, the National Steel Advisory Council (NSAC) the strategic steel sector, which is a huge tax payer, needs improvement in its cash flow to continue playing its role in ensuring employment is sustained in the country. 

The NSAC in a statement observed that the Coronavirus crisis is going to create a severe cash crunch and drastic reduction in demand. 

“These factors are sure to leave many businesses bankrupt and render hundreds of thousands unemployed unless the government acts immediately”. 

It was further said that steel Industries across the world have been granted subsequent support from their respective governments in terms of tax relief, loans, markup relief, utility bills, interest rates etc, but unfortunately, the recently announced Economic Relief Package by the Government of Pakistan has neglected the local steel manufacturing sector, though steel is exported from Pakistan.

At this critical time the government needs to motivate steel industry, which is a backbone of industrialization, is mainly in the private sector, the statement issued by NSAC Chief Executive Officer, Meraj A Khwaja, added, while the government was urged to defer and forego some of the taxes being charged to the private steel sector. 

The NSAC suggested that turnover tax U/S 113 for industry should be reduced to 0% from 1.5% for 2020 and 2021, while a 100% adjustment of Sales Tax input may be allowed u/s 8 b against the available output. 

The consortium demanded that government should remove the 3% additional sale tax on raw material imports; immediately release all pending income tax and sales tax refunds. 

The industrialists urged the government to stop charging of advance tax on raw material imported by industry for 2020 in order to enhance cash flow. 

They also desire stoppage of collection of advance tax on goods, services and contracts u/s 153 for 2020, while on the other hand payment of EOBI/Professional Tax/WPPF and WWF for 2019-20 to be waived off. 

“With the production coming to halt, demurrage charges must be waived off for the lock down period.” 

The NSAC also demanded waiver of fixed charges on electricity during lockdown, while calling upon the government to include and take local steel industry as part and parcel of the construction sector.

Coronavirus research: ‘More steps are due’

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

Following the recent release of details of a ‘half-done’ study related to whole genome sequencing of locally spread coronavirus by a research centre at the University of Karachi (KU), the scientists at Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) on April 1 declared that virus in question collected from a boy by them for research purposes had come from Saudi Arabia.

“The virus transmitted to the boy locally has come from Saudi Arabia and infected 15 patients of same family, which indicates that the local spread of this virus is very fast,” a DUHS press release quoted the medical experts of the University and added that team of experts were continuing analyzing the Coronavirus sequence and more steps were yet to be taken.

Earlier, the KU researchers had claimed in a press release that the genome sequencing of Coronavirus collected from a local patient having a travel history was complete. 

“The virus examined at Jamil-ur-Rahman Centre for Genome Research of KU was more closely related to the virus from China.” 

The scientists, who worked under the leadership of DUHS Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Saeed Quraishi, said that the novel Corona Virus 2019 (SARS-COV-2) was changing its genetics according to Pakistan’s local conditions. 

The DUHS information regarding genome sequencing of locally spread virus will help in treatment, diagnostics and vaccine development, according to them. 

A DUHS press release said that the research was in its initial stage and the sequencing has been done with the cooperation of a KU centre, while the fully equipped modern biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) virology lab at DUHS was used for the isolation of ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the sample, a crucial and dangerous exercise indeed. 

“The presence of virus was confirmed through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) at Dow University.” It was further said that the DUHS research revealed that the sequence of this virus was slightly different from Wuhan virus with few mutations. 

“This virus has originated in China and came to Pakistan through Saudi Arabia.” 

Moreover, the scientists noted, this was just one of the investigated cases, while ‘they are in the process of analyzing many other samples of Coronavirus that have been transmitted from other countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, the United Kingdom, the United States and others’.

Local manufacturing of protective gears discussed

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

While the role of doctors, paramedics and volunteers as frontline workers is increasing every day in the wake of continued surge in the number of Coronavirus cases across the country, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail on April 1 discussed the possibilities of local manufacturing of personal protective gears for medical professionals in the country with a delegation of textile and designing industry.

During his meeting with the delegation at the Governor’s House, he declared that doctors and paramedics are country’s front line soldier in war against COVID-19. 

The four-member delegation was headed by noted designer of the country, Deepak Parwani, who said that the textile and designing industry considers it as their national duty to contribute what it can to facilitate the health professionals and volunteers. 

An official handout said that matters relating to local production of protective gear, the needs of tiger force in this regard, less dependence on imported items and other matters of mutual interests were discussed during the meeting. 

The Governor told the delegation that the availability of personal protective gear for healthcare professionals was of paramount importance and in view of difficulties in its availability and local manufacturing of the same would be encouraged.

He said that healthcare professionals and volunteers engaged in looking after Coronavirus patients were working tirelessly and entire nation salutes them for their contributions in this regard. 

The Governor asked details of planned local manufacturing of protective gear and said that he would personally look into this and facilitate the local manufacturers. 

He said that Coronavirus was a national issue and devoted, dedicated and most importantly combined efforts are needed for control and elimination of the same. 

Member Provincial Assembly Sidra Imran, Kehkashan Saiyed, Furqan Riaz and Shahzaib Kapadia were also present on the occasion. 

Book on Umar Sharif to be reprinted

Pakistan News & Features Services

Umar Sharif’s versatility as an actor and a comedian is globally admired and a USA-based journalist of Pakistani origin, Arif Afzal Usmani, had taken the initiative of writing and publishing a book titled ‘Humay Tumse Pyar Hai’ which threw light on the various facets of his personality. 

The book had been launched with great fanfare at a star-studded ceremony held at the Karachi Gymkhana in August 2018. 

Although there has been a considerable decline in reading habits generally in the recent past, some books have still braved all those factors to be in demand because of its content and features. 

‘Humay Tumse Pyar Hai’ is also one of those books having found a place in the bookshelves of a lot of people and there are a lot of fans of Umar Sharif, spread all over the world, who desire to have a personal copy of this book. 

The author of the book, Arif Afzal Usmani, has informed PNFS from New Jersey, USA, on April 1 that there are plans to bring out second edition of the book once the normal life resumes after the exit of Coronavirus pandemic. 

‘Humay Tumse Pyar Hai’ is a compilation of essays by eminent personalities from the various walks of life, who have shared their views and experiences about the widely admired Umar Sharif.

Government urged to let private schools administration work

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The All Private Schools Management Association Sindh (APSMAS) has urged the provincial to allow the schools to open their offices to carry out administrative functions. In a tweet on April 1, 

Syed Tariq Shah, Chairman, APSMAS, has appealed to the Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, to let the schools open for administrative matters. 

“Appeal from Govt of Sindh. Allow schools to open office for admin matters. Only source of fund for schools is fee collection as we have to pay salaries, building rent, govt taxes and utilities. We request Honourable CM Murad Ali Shah, Education Minister Saeed Ghani and Murtaza Wahab,” he tweeted. 

Tariq Shah, who is also Secretary General of the National Educational Council Pakistan (NECP), in a statement the other day, had drawn the attention of the government about this matter too. 

While requesting parents to pay tuition fee regularly every month so that private institutions would not suffer badly and would survive in such crisis, he also demanded of the federal government to provide interest free loans to private educational institutions in order to enable them to overcome the precarious situation by temporarily meeting their expenditures.

Coronavirus: Indigenous research generates concerns

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The release of details of a ‘half-done’ study by a group of scientists at the University of Karachi, claiming that their analysis of the whole genome sequence of coronavirus will be helpful in decision making at national level for the use of future therapeutic options and vaccinations, has generated concerns among experts. 

A press release of the university quoted Prof M Iqbal Choudhary, Director of Director of International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), saying this was the first indigenously sequenced whole genome of Coronavirus from Pakistan. 

“Analysis of the sequence revealed nine mutations in the different regions of genome, as compared to the sequence reported from Wuhan, China,” where the virus originated three months back.

“Mutation is change which appears in the DNA of all organisms and viruses, Dr Choudhary said, adding that comparison with genomes from other parts of the world revealed that virus examined at Jamil-ur-Rahman Center for Genome Research was more closely related to the virus from China, the point from where the pandemic was started. 

A day earlier, a senior scientist from the University had claimed that the virus was different than the one in Wuhan and was less harmful, said a scientist requesting secrecy. 

The technique that allows researchers to read and decipher the genetic information found in the DNA of anything from bacteria to plants to animals is called genomic sequencing. 

"In pandemic it becomes more important to monitor the way, rate and nature of mutations which may have impact on effectiveness of future therapies and vaccinations," the ICCBS director said while recommending that more genomes from Pakistani patients were sequenced to understand the full spectrum of genetic variations, and the way the virus was evolving here.

Interestingly, the research details did not mention the age, gender and place of treatment of the patient from whom the RNA was drawn for the scientific research at the KU facility in question. 

It was claimed in the press release that the genome sequencing of Coronavirus collected from a local patient having a travel history was complete now. 

An enquiry conducted by this scribe in the matter revealed that the sample was drawn from a child belonging to a locally infected cluster of people. 

“The subject in question has never visited abroad,” claimed a source privy to the handling of the oropharyngeal swab specimen obtained for genome sequence at a public sector medical university.

In the meantime, experts have termed the development a premature assessment, rather a ridiculous move as the KU Centre needed to seek more such samples from different hospitals. 

They are also silent about the in question traveler's exact place of visit. “Why does not the solitary scientist in question interact with experts related to the subject?” “We need to apply our experts' brain and support as well along with the machines”, said a keen observer, adding that efforts should be made to ensure protection and treatment out of the available resources. 

Meanwhile a senior microbiologist and pathologists at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), Prof M Saeed Khan, in a television interview, said that the research details pertained to a collaborative study undertaken by a KU centre and Dow university, but it was difficult to draw any conclusion about the behaviour of the virus at this stage, particularly when the human genetic in the country is different from other parts of the world. 

“The virus under study was isolated by DUHS scientists from among a sizeable number of Coronavirus patients, while it is anticipated that research would move out of the initial stage,” he added.