Sunday, March 29, 2020

NBP announce revised banking hours

By Syed Sajid Aziz
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), following the directives of the central bank, starting from March 30, will now remain open for public dealing from 10 am to 3.30 pm until further orders. 

The working hours at the selected branches will be observed from Mondays to Thursdays while the bank will be open from 10 am to 12.30 pm on Fridays. 

The spokesman of the NBP, Ibne Hasan, informed PNFS that the digital banking services and ATM will remain functional round the clock, as usual, and the customers have been advised to ring 111-627-627 for complaints or assistance. 

He further disclosed that the NBP management has ensured adequate safety measures at the branches and its offices for the customers as well as the staff in view of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“All the necessary precautions are being taken with emphasis on social distancing in these times for the safety of people,” he added.

4th batch of Chinese aid to fight COVID-19 arrives

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The fourth batch of Chinese government's medical assistance to Pakistan for anti-epidemic campaign arrived Islamabad on March 29.

The Chinese Ambassador, Yao Jing, the Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Lt General Muhammad Afzal, and the representatives of the Pakistan government and the military were present in the handing over ceremony at the Nur Khan Air Force Base.

On behalf of the Pakistan government, General Afzal thanked China for supporting Pakistan to fight the epidemic. 

He stated that since the outbreak of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government and people have adopted timely, decisive, scientific and effective prevention and control measures to successfully curb the spread of the epidemic. 

Reflecting China's firm political determination and strong organizational response capabilities, Pakistan appreciates China's success in fighting the epidemic, he said, adding that various sectors of the Chinese society have assisted the Pakistani side with many consignments of urgently needed medical supplies. 

He also mentioned that an expert medical team from China that arrived in Pakistan a day earlier, fully demonstrating the excellent tradition of Pakistan-China all-weather strategic partnership especially in time of need.

In this connection, General Afzal recognized that at the time of Pakistan's present crises situation, only China resolutely extended its helping hand to cope with the challenges. 

“The Pakistan government and all walks of life are deeply grateful. This is our true feeling from our hearts. The Pakistani nation is very proud of China-Pakistan friendship,” he concluded. 

Ambassador Yao asserted that China and Pakistan were true friends who shared the same distress and are good brothers who share at the same share happiness. 

At the most difficult time for China to fight the epidemic, the Pakistani government and people gave China valuable support. Pakistan’s President, Dr Arif Alvi, had visited China in person at the time China was facing difficult challenges from Coronavirus.

Now when the epidemic prevention situation in Pakistan is severe, the Chinese government has actively implemented the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and urgently sent aid goods to Pakistan to provide strong support for the anti-epidemic efforts of Pakistan. All sectors of society have also acted to help Pakistan. 

At present, the epidemic is spreading globally. The international community should strengthen its confidence and work together to respond. 

China upholds the concept of a community of shared future for mankind, and is willing to provide assistance within its capacity to other countries, reflecting the role of major powers and contributing to world economic stability. 

China will continue to stand firmly with Pakistan and take more active measures to support the Pakistani response to the epidemic. 

By jointly fighting the epidemic, China-Pakistan's all-weather strategic cooperative partnership will be further deepened, and the foundation of the China-Pakistan community of shared destiny will be more solid.  

Ambassador Yao was also interviewed by the media, present on the occasion, with the focus on China-Pakistan cooperation in fighting the epidemic.

Halqaa-e Arbaab-e Zauq holds online literary sitting

By Zaib Azkaar Hussain
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Halqaa-e Arbaab-e Zauq (HAZ), Karachi, created history of sorts by holding its first-ever online literary sitting in which writers from across the country discussed at length Urdu creations of three writers. 

The Zoom Cloud video conference was prompted by the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in which social distancing is strongly discouraged. 

The participants observed that the ‘Coronavirus factor' had compelled them not to hold a gathering but the tools of modern information technology provided them a good opportunity to hold an online literary meeting. 

Famous writer Shaguftta Shafeeq, who presided over the meeting, titled a 'tanqeedi nashist’ remarked that the HAZ Karachi had done a great job to hold an online gathering to discuss latest creations of three writers that included Sarah Mehboob, Naaz Arif Naaz and Mutriba Shaikh. 

She further said that Sarah Mahboob presented a relatively good Urdu ghazal that has amazing diction such as 'aaeena' and ‘hijro wesaal' and inspite of the fact that the ghazal had a romantic mood it brought to light a gap and distance between the lovers while symbolizing the 'mirror' as a reality of life. 

Underlining the Urdu 'khaaka' presented by Naaz Arif Naaz, the President of the meeting, noted thsat Naaz portrayed the personality of her husband (Arif) in her written sketch but she only projected qualities and avoided to argue on some demerits of life of her husband. 

She commended Mutriba Shaikh for her art of writing an article on a book of Urdu short stories titled "Dhoop mein jaltay khawaab' by Naghmana Shaikh', adding she presented a perfect paper. 

Shaguftta Shafeeq concluded that the paper underlined some of the stories of Naghmana Shaikh in relation to their subjects, characters and problems being faced by women in present times. 

Zahid Hussain Zahid, who was the chief guest on the occasion, thoroughly appreciated the three writers. 

However, the guest of honour from Lahore, Shahzad Nayyer, took exception of some weak diction in poetry and 'khaaka', saying instead of presenting repeated thoughts, the writers of modern times must experience fresh subjects and issues in their creations. 

Nevertheless, he appreciated Mutriba Shaikh for her piece, while noting that she tried her best to convey the content and characterization of stories of Naughmana Shaikh by discussing the worth and approach of the characters in different stories. Yet it needed to be further elaborated the characters and treatment of the writer in her book. 

Shabbir Ibne Aadil, who was also guest of honour at the meeting, Khalid Danish, Asif Ali Asif, Iffat Naveed, Kamran Mughal, Muhammad Asghar Khan, Khalid Moin, Khawaja Muhammad Azam, Kashif Ali Hashmi, Surria Hayya, Yasir Bashir, Dr Shahid Zamir, Aqeel Abbas Jaffery, Afzal Hazarvi, Sikandar Rind, Naughmana Shaikh and others also expressed their thoughts on the three creations. 

Sarah Mehboob and Asif Ali Asif coordinated the online discussion while the HAZ Secretary, Zaib Azkaar Hussain, welcomed the meeting participants and threw light on the nature of the 'tanqeedi nashist' and expressed hope that the writers would take keen interest in discussing the literary and cultural issues through online meetings. 

Later, in an informal online 'mushaira', President of the meeting Shaguftta Shafeeq, chief guest Shahzad Nayyar, Surria Hayya, Asif Ali Asif, Asghar Khan, Sarah Mehboiob, Kashif Ali Hashmi, Zaib Azkaar Hussain and others presented their Urdu verses.

Pakistan’s banks to facilitate customers to combat COVID-19

By Syed Sajid Aziz
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The banks operating in Pakistan have been allowed to facilitate their customers in the wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, having rocked the world. The circular in this regard was issued by the country’s central bank on March 28. 

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), in an attempt to combat the potential spread of the pandemic, has advised for limiting person-to-person interactions and to provide ease of services to the customers of the various banks. 

Now Direct Cheque Deposit Facility is being introduced under which a crossed cheque may be presented by payee/beneficiary directly into the paying/drawee bank instead of their bank branches as per the existing practice. 

Doorstep Cheque Collection Facility has also been launched in which Banks/MFBs may make arrangements to collect cheque from registered addresses of their customers upon their request. 

Drop box Cheque Collection Facility, under which customers may drop their cheques in drop boxes of their banks, will be installed in selected branches while the banks have also be authorized to allow their Corporates/Priority customers to send them the scanned image of the cheque along with relevant details of the Beneficiary either through registered emails or through mobile Apps of their banks to push funds from their accounts to the payee bank. 

The banks are being encouraged to implement additional risk mitigating measures as per their internal policies while offering these services to their customers. 

Further, in order to minimize person-to-person interaction, Banks/MFBs may also make arrangements with the Clearing House (NIFT) for clearing their cheques through Image Based Clearing (IBC) functionality as per the agreed SOPs between NIFT and banks.

Sindh government urged to increase Coronavirus testing facilities

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The overall rate of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Sindh was 9.50% on March 28 as compared to 9.43% the previous day while there was no change in the Sukkur pilgrims which stood at 7.76%. 

People have been somewhat relieved to see the rate of infection getting flattened during the last couple of days. 

In order to gain greater public confidence and support it has been suggested to the health data providers in Sindh to also provide details of 131 local transmission cases in Karachi as people will like to know if these new cases in question have been associated with the infected people coming from Iran or they contacted the infection through neutral persons, general crowd, workplace, market and transports. 

It’s also being felt that now time has come to observe scientific and convincing approach, otherwise any prolonged lockdown may backfire. It’s being pointed out that there may be no use of turning the majority of population into the lot of needy people, particularly as they don’t have any dignified mechanism to address social issues from hunger to health. 

The Sindh health department has tested 4,810 people for Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic across the province since February 26 according to official sources, as on March 28. As such on average 150 patients per day were tested for Coronavirus, who reported at any of the a dozen or so designated centres availing free kits from the health department or any other setting. 

And if we conservatively consider the population of Sindh to be around 55million, then the coverage rate comes as 27 people per ten million, which appears very nominal to have any practicable picture or trend of the infection. 

Here one could argue that the tests carried out by private sector units and a couple of public sector units using non-governmental kits are not included in the official list as either government takes the positive tested counts from them and not those which are negative. 

But at the same time it should be kept in mind that such units cannot afford to conduct such tests extensively as they have limited machines and expertise/technical hands including the specially trained hands that draw samples from patients for Coronavirus testing purpose 

On the other hand at present about 1,100 tests (half of it done by private sector facilities) ever day were taking place according to the Punjab health minister. 

If Punjab's population is thought to be around 110 million then it can be said that about 100 people  per day are being tested/day every 10 million people though the province is a late starter in the context of Coronavirus. 

The Government of Sindh is being urged to increase its assessing capacity/number of tests/per day while the authorities have been claiming that they were keen to overcome the shortcomings during the lockdown/partial curfew days. 

With the pandemic having wreaked havoc all over the world, the fear is growing among the masses and people wonder why more tests are not being carried out. At the moment only a few hospitals are doing it and they only report only the positive cases. 

The other day it was being claimed that the federal as well as the provincial governments were capable of preparing corona test kits indigenously. Probably PCRs and deployment of resources and trained manpower for an extended period seem to be the real issues.

If they find it plausible not to test neutral population, then should come up with the notion that virus was being found among foreign travellers (who could not be detained in the initial days of the crisis) and their family members/contacts only and general population is still not at the risk to any alarming extent. 

It has been generally agreed that lockdown/curfew can prove a time buying only if the government does not move in a scientific way. The task force needs to be broadened, involving more and more experts, like microbiologist, haematologists and infectious disease experts and other seniors from the public sector institutions. Engaging the universities for any meaningful exercise is another option yet to be tried.
Coronavirus Chronology 
February 26: Pakistan reported its first two cases of Coronavirus positive (Total-1,408, with 11 deaths)
February 26: Sindh reported the first positive case (Tally-469 cases, with one death)
February 26: Gilgit Baltistan reported first case (Tally-107, with one death)
March 10: Balochistan reported first case (Tally-133, with one death)
March 14: Islamabad Capital Territory reported its first case (Tally-39)
March 15: Punjab reported the first corona patient (Tally-490, with five deaths)
March 16: Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa reported its first case (Tally 180, with three deaths)
March 18: Pakistan reported the first two corona related deaths
March 18: Azad Kashmir reported its first corona case (Tally 02).

Dewan Yousuf advises government to avoid total lockdown

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Dewan Mohammad Yousuf Farooqui, a prominent businessman and a former provincial minister, has warned the government about the implications of lockdown if it was not properly defined before implementation. 

Talking to PNFS in Karachi on March 28, he emphasized that the government should take into consideration all pros and cons before arriving at any decision regarding lockdown to combat Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Indeed it’s a complicated situation to handle but it’s a duty of the government to look at all aspects. They have to decide about the areas which require lockdown and which are the ones that could be spared. A total lockdown could mean colossal to the economy which could lead even to unrest and civil war,” he believed. 

Dewan Yousuf appealed to the Government of Sindh that the industries, having labour colonies in their vicinity, should be allowed to work after meeting the safety requirements. 

“The gated and guarded factories were functioning after taking all precautions. They had kept their gates closed and the public access was blocked. The labourers were working in safe environment as the temperature inside was more than fifty degrees. After being engaged in eight-hourly shifts they had the option of moving safely into their restrooms,” he stated. 

“Closing down such industries has had multiple negative implications. Besides incurring huge financial losses to the factory owners as well as the staff, this action has prompted the labourers to go back to their villages where they are more vulnerable to contracting Coronavirus,” Dewan Yousuf added. 

“We hope and pray that the situation is controlled inside a couple of weeks. If the lockdown lasts longer, it could be terrible as a lot of time may be needed to re-establish the cycle of production and we might not be in a position to pay the utility bills or the government taxes,” the former minister explained. 

“In the prevailing circumstances the Government of Sindh should take the necessary steps keeping all such factors in mind. They should not lose sight of the fact that the developed countries like USA and UK don’t necessarily have labour colonies in the vicinity of industries while the immunity system of our people is also known to be better than those of their citizens,” Dewan Yousuf reminded. 

He advised the government to allow the industries, having labour colonies, to resume their working in safe environment.