Thursday, April 23, 2020

Germany offers $10.8bn additional relief to COVID-19 victims

Pakistan News & Features Services 

The German government has moved to help further their workers and businesses affected by the pandemic by offering more wage support and tax relief. Germany's coalition parties, on April 23, have agreed to further measures worth 10 billion euros ($10.81bn) in order to shield workers and companies from the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The document agreed by senior members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition has also agreed to temporarily lower the tax burden for the catering industry through a reduced VAT rate of 7 percent for food and to give some tax relief for small companies. 

The package envisages increased financial support of the federal government worth 500 million euros ($540.88bn) for schools and pupils to boost e-learning and digitalization. 

The aid package includes more government wage support for people in short-time work schemes, an arrangement that subsidises wages so that firms can cut working hours rather than sack employees. 

Germany had previously approved an initial rescue package worth more than 750 billion euros ($811.31bn) to mitigate the effect of the coronavirus outbreak, with the government taking on new debt for the first time since 2013. 

The first package, announced in March, comprised a debt-financed supplementary budget of 156 billion euros ($168bn) and a stabilization fund worth 600 billion euros for loans to struggling businesses and direct stakes in companies. 

Germany's infection rate has slowed a week ago and the country has slowly begun to reopen its economy but the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 2,237 to 145,694 on April 22.

Coronavirus Update: Deaths, infection continue

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Sindh reported three more deaths due to coronavirus infection in Karachi, while the daily rate of the viral infection reached 15.25%, the highest of all days when 340 new cases were reported across the province. 

According to Sindh health department data, samples from 2,097 suspected patients were tested during the last 24 hours ending April 22 at 8 am, out of which 320 were found positive for COVID-19. 

The daily new infection rate has been increasing, particularly when the provincial authorities increased the daily number of tests. On April 21, 2,191 samples were tested in different government designated laboratories, out of which 289 (13.19%) were declared positive, while 182 (11.23%) out of 1,620 tested positive on April 20 and another 138 (9.2%) out of 1,500 tested positive on April 19.

A keen observer said that the recent days’ data were clear manifestation of the fact that the more they are testing the more they are getting the hidden cases of corona virus. 

Similarly, the death of COVID-19 patients is also continuing unabated. Three more male patients, ageing 67, 60, 81, respectively died in public and private hospitals of Karachi on April 22. Prior to this, eight people had lost their lives to corona on April 19, five on April 20, and another five on April 21. 

The official data of April 22 suggested that coronavirus infection has lately spread to Kambar Shahdadkot also, as such now all the districts, with the sole exception Matiari, of Sindh are in the grip of COVID-19. 

A total of 3,337 virus infected cases have been reported since the detection of first coronavirus case of Sindh on February 26, with 69 fatalities that occurred in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. 

As many as 292 new cases of infection were found on April 22 at Karachi, 19 at Hyderabad, four in Kashmore, two at Khairpur, and one each at Kamber Shahdadkot, Shaheed Benazirabad and Ghotki. 

In the meantime, in his routine video message, Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, asked the citizens to follow the lockdown measures if they wanted to save themselves from COVID-19. “The tests conducted so far come to 30,346 against which 3,373 cases have been detected,” he informed. 

Talking about local transmission of the infection, he said that 308 new cases were of local transmissions, the highest in the province so far with Karachi being the worst affected with over 1,300 cases. 

He stated said that at present, 2,589 patients were under treatment, of them 1,579 were in home isolation, 613 at isolation centres and 379 in different hospitals.

Doctors demand tighter lockdown

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

Senior medical practitioners representing health providers in both the public and private sectors, on April 22, expressed their dismay over what they said a loose enforcement of lockdown restrictions aimed at containment of COVID-19 spread across the province.

They warned that the lethal virus was all set to enter its dangerous phase due to the myths that ‘the virus is not going to affect us, we are the chosen ones and we don’t have severe cases as compared to other parts of the world.’ 

Addressing a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club Dr Saad K Niaz, Dr Abdul Bari Khan, Dr S M Qaiser Sajjad, Dr Atif Hafeez and others said that only a tighter lockdown can have strong detrimental effects on the spread of coronavirus in the country. 

They also disliked the decisions related to congregational prayers, including taraveeh prayers, which the government and ulema reached recently.

Pointing out that a 40% rise had been observed in a mere five days, they candidly expressed that the available infrastructures and manpower in the health sector were not going to help if the diseases crisis mounted further. 

The media was told that the dedicated intensive care units for coronavirus patients in various hospitals in Karachi were nearly full to capacity. “The country did not have enough health professionals to fight the disease, while those who are battling at the frontline were also disheartened by the situation.” 

They further mentioned that 162 members of the medical community, along with hundreds of citizens including women and children had been infected in Sindh courtesy the non-serious attitude of the government. 

The leaders of physicians demanded a stricter lockdown, which, according to them, was the only viable way to check the onslaught of the diseases in the country. 

“We neither have any cure at present nor capacity to fight this disease. The only way to save lives is to slowdown the number of cases by implementing social distancing principles and reduced movement of people,” they concluded.

Online classes launch discussed at KU

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

The administration and teaching faculty at the University of Karachi (KU), on April 22, examined the preparations for introduction of online teaching in the wake of prolonged coronavirus epidemic in the country.

At a relevant meeting, held with KU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Khalid Mahmood Iraqi in chair, it was decided said that the university should utilize all available technologies to conduct classes at the earliest, whether these were already available through university resources or would be provided by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). 

The KU and other higher learning institutions and school and colleges are closed under the government’s preventive requirements enforced following the COVID-19 outbreak in the country about two months back. 

The meeting was attended by the registrar, various deans and directors and in-charges of the related programmes and services of the university. 

Professor Iraqi asked the deans to conduct a meeting with all the chairpersons on planned online teaching initiatives and take them onboard. “We intend to start online classes to facilitate students and continue the learning process at the earliest.” 

The Convener of the KU eLearning Committee, Dr Syed Jamil Hasan Kazmi, presented the finding of a survey, described the readiness about the six dimensions of online classes that KU is looking to cater which include university readiness, faculty readiness, course readiness, technology readiness, library readiness, and students’ readiness. 

About university readiness, he said that the KU was in the process of implementing the Learning Management System acquired through HEC, and IDs of teachers have been generated which soon would be sent to teachers. 

About students’ readiness, he informed the participants of the meeting, which was second of its kind, that so far around 8,000 students have recorded their responses. “We are studying the responses to cater to the needs of students and to make sure that the learning process continues.” 

Dr Syed Asim Ali briefed about the viability of MS Teams Software and Zoom Software and the availability of MS-Teams license in Pakistan Education Research Network subscriptions. He presented HEC’s recommendation about online learning in this regard.

Remembering Moin Akhtar, the great entertainer

Pakistan News & Features Services

Moin Akhtar, one of the greatest-ever entertainers to have been produced by Pakistan, had passed away nine years ago on April 22 but he’s still fondly and passionately remembered and his works remain fresh in the memory of a large number of audience in different corners of the planet. 

Hailing from Karachi, versatility was the name of the game for him as besides being a television, film and stage artist of pedigree, he was also a terrific humorist, comedian, impersonator, host, writer, singer, director and producer. 

The multi-faceted Moin Akhtar had the elusive quality of doing justice to all his roles and he was incredibly successful in making every character his own with his talents and hard work.

Born on December 24, 1950, he began his career from Radio Pakistan at the age of 16 but he came into prominence with his stints on television as he went from strength to strength and never looked back. 

His all-round excellence made him one of the most after personalities of the showbiz industry in Pakistan. 

He immortalized himself with the popular comedy show ‘Loose Talk’ became not only the talk of the town but it was watched with great interest in many countries as he and Anwar Maqsood, alongwith Bushra Ansari, entertained millions week after week in 1990s. 

The impossibly gifted Moin Akhtar seemed to have many years left in him as he remained fit and agile throughout his career. His journey, however, was cut short abruptly by a fatal heart attack on April 22, 2011 as he was only 60 at the time of his untimely death.

Nisar Memon praises Chinese leadership

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Senator Nisar Memon has praised the Chinese leadership, headed by President Xi Jinping, for having controlled the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with precision. 

“COVID-19 had first surfaced, reported and now controlled in China. How did they do it? Their leadership, hats off to President Xi Jinping who led from the front and his entire team in centre, provinces and municipalities who implemented effective unambiguous lockdown with reliable data using information technology and artificial intelligence to save further lives by testing, isolation, isolation and isolation,” the former federal minister wrote in his latest newspaper article. 

“In the fight they provided to doctors, paramedics and supporting staff the personal protective equipments. These frontline medical soldiers in turn went scientifically against the virus to save citizen lives. Bravo!” he complimented.

“The ancient civilization of our region is stuck by a pandemic which has taken the whole world by surprise. Isn’t this the time to bury the hatchet, unite to fight current common enemy and lay a solid basis for future relations? The answer can only be in affirmative,” he reckoned. 

“Unfortunately, our neighbour Iran could not implement social distances due to ziarat (pilgrimage) and COVID-19 found fertile ground to spread. India announced severe and tough lockdown and saved their people. Sri Lanka undertook early hygiene and preventive measures and kept the Island nation safe. Bangladesh took stringent measures to save lives. Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan too fought well to save lives,” Senator Nisar Memon noted. 

“Pakistan had no option but to take actions to contain spread of pandemic. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries with population of about 1.8 billion had confirmed COVID-19 cases of above 20,000 and over 600 deaths, as of last week. At the same time; USA and Europe with population of about 1.1 billion had confirmed Covid19 cases of above 1.6 million and over 120,000 deaths. SAARC affliction was proportionally lower than USA and Europe,” he stated. 

“The scientists and social researchers have yet to come up with a plausible answer as to why such a huge difference. The reasons like temperature, social distances, and effective lockdown do not hold true. The rural horizontal spread, food we eat, and pollution with unclean environment may have developed immunity within our body. But nothing definitive is said yet,” the former federal minister commented.

Chinese ambassador confident of timely execution of energy projects

By Masood Sattar Khan 
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, has said that the execution of the under-construction energy projects in Pakistan is being carried out as per schedule keeping in accordance with the government prevention steps (SOPs) to stem out coronavirus (COVID-19).

Ambassador Jing expressed these views while addressing a video conference of Chinese-funded enterprises in Pakistan working under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Energy Project, according to a statement issued by the Chinese embassy in Islamabad on April 22. 

Counselor Wang Zhihua and the leaders of 13 corridor energy companies attended the meeting. 

Ambassador Yao remarked that since the outbreak of the epidemic, the corridor energy project had been seriously implemented under the domestic and Pakistani government's epidemic prevention and control requirements, comprehensively carried out all anti-epidemic work, actively fulfilled its social responsibilities, worked hard to ensure Pakistan's power supply, and promoted the smooth progress of the ongoing projects.

At present, Pakistan's epidemic prevention situation is complex, he said, adding that all enterprises must attached great importance to epidemic challenges, strengthen risk awareness, strengthen epidemic prevention skills and confidence, need to do a good job in epidemic prevention and control. 

He emphasized that, while carrying out the construction job, they should strengthen the care and protection of the Chinese and the Pakistan employees. 

He said that, by doing a good job of self-protection, it will provide Pakistan with support within its ability and strive to make new contributions to the fight against the epidemic and enhance the friendship between China and Pakistan. 

The Corridor Energy Project enterprises thanked the relevant domestic departments for their help and guidance, and said that they will continue to adopt all necessary steps in epidemic prevention and control as required to ensure the health and safety of project personnel to ensure timely accomplishment of construction of these projects.

Private schools’ future endangered

Pakistan News & Features Services

There’s an agonizing war of words, and even a legal battle, taking place in Karachi, and a few other cities, between the owners of private schools, the concerned government departments and the families of students as all the educational institutions remain closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The blame game hasn’t helped the cause of education. In fact the ongoing crisis has endangered the future of private schools. All the stakeholders need to find an amicable solution in order to prevent a catastrophe which will not be in the interest of the society. 

Pressurizing the private schools, whose majority operates with limited resources, may only result in pushing them to the wall and creating a situation where they will be left with no other option than to quit. A large number of teachers, educationists and non-skilled workers will become jobless in that scenario. 

Can an under-developing country like Pakistan afford to return to the dark ages at a time when other countries are devoting their energies and resources to lift education standards to meet the future challenges? 

Will Pakistan like more of its children to be deprived of quality education? Isn’t it the responsibility of the government to facilitate between parents and schools owners to resolve the misunderstanding and misconception instead of creating new problems by means of arbitrary decisions? 

It’s well known fact that the majority of private schools in Karachi have been charging monthly fees between Rs 500 to Rs 2,000. 

Although the standard of education in these schools is much better than those in the government schools and at par with the majority of the fancied private schools but the families of higher middle class are not fond of choosing such a school for their children and they only remain the preferred destination for families having modest means. These are also the schools which allow fee discounts to students. 

The only source of income for such schools is the collection of fees from the students as their owners are neither landlords nor billionaires with other business interests. They are mostly housed on rented premises and their budgets are tight. They have to pay the utility bills and taxes almost every month. 

Sadly these schools are most regularly targeted for undue criticism despite enduring crunch financial situations. Their owners are often accused of being a mafia which is far from reality. 

During the ongoing lockdown, only the fans and lights at such schools are closed which doesn’t have significant impact on electricity bills. That’s a marginal saving when the schools are closed on the basis of which they cannot be abused for profiteering.

The parents or the families have to realize that such schools are saving marginally and suffering phenomenally because their sole source of income has been blocked during these months. Therefore there’s absolutely no sense in refusing or delaying to pay school fees. 

The parents, genuinely affected by lockdown, must share their problems with school owners and seek relaxation. Indeed it’s a time of give and take. It’s a collective issue. 

The salaries of schools staff will continue getting delayed if the deadlock persists and the parents don’t pay the long overdue fees without second thoughts or apprehensions.

US President pledges to rescue oil industry

By Syed Sajid Aziz in USA
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The United States (US) President, Donald Trump, has pledged to rescue the oil industry which was rocked on April 20 as the prices went negative for the first time in history. 

“We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down. I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!” Trump tweeted on April 21. 

The US President didn’t furnish details, however, only saying that he had advised members of his administration to make funds available to companies. 

“We are taking very aggressive but appropriate steps to help the industry. The administration is working to ensure that oil and gas companies can access lending programs created by the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue plan, including those meant for medium-sized businesses and the Federal Reserve facility,” Energy Secretary, Dan Brouillette, revealed in a television interview. 

“The market is ruthlessly efficient at weeding out high-cost producers. The demand curve has moved so quickly in a downward fashion, the production is simply not able to keep up with it,” he added. 

In the meantime, the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures had plunged below zero for the first time ever on April 20 and the sector has hemorrhaged an estimated 51,000 drilling and refining jobs in March, according to BW Research Partnership, a research consultancy which also warned that the industry’s job losses could reach as high as 30% or more in the first quarter of 2020.