Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Apple, Google release COVID-19 app sample concept

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

Apple Inc. and Google have announced that their upcoming contract-tracing tool will be restricted to one public health app per country to get as many people in each nation using the software as possible. 

The two companies also released app concepts and sample code to help app developers build programs using the iOS and Android contact-tracing tool. 

In a statement on May 4, the companies declared that they would still support countries to have opted for a regional or state approach. 

The system, unveiled in April, added technology to the iOS and Android smartphone operating systems that alerts users anonymously if they have come into contact with a person with COVID-19. 

The first phase will be launched publicly in mid-May. It requires public health apps to integrate with the system. In the future, the technology will be embedded more deeply into the Apple and Google operating systems to be less reliant on apps. 

The company representatives also outlined why they decided to build the tool, now known as Exposure Notification, adding that the governments had been attempting to build their own apps, but came to Apple and Google for help. 

The companies also reiterated that the apps using the technology must be built by public health authorities, require user consent, collect only the minimum amount of data, and should not record a user's location.

Billions pledged for COVID-19 vaccine research

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

International leaders, organizations and banks have pledged 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus (COVID-19) but warned that it’s just the beginning of an effort that needs to be sustained with full intensity to overcome the deadly disease.

The funds were pledged at a video-conference summit hosted by the European Union although it fell marginally short of the target of 7.5 billion euros but more money could arrive in coming days. 

"In the space of just a few hours we have collectively pledged 7.4 billion euros for vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. All this money will help kick-start unprecedented global cooperation,'' the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, observed in her concluding remarks on the occasion. 

The original objective was to collect around 4 billion euros ($4.37 billion) for vaccine research, some 2 billion euros for treatments and 1.5 billion ($1.64 billion) for testing. 

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stated that the initial target pursued to help find a vaccine, new treatments and better tests for the disease would only amount to a down payment on the tools that will be needed to fight the virus as they needed around five times more to reach everyone and everywhere.

Coronavirus Update: Karachi edges past Lahore to be worst affected in Pakistan

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Karachi was reported to have the highest coronavirus case load in the country at 24%, pulling down Lahore to number two at 23%, as the Sindh health authorities confirmed detection of another 371 new cases, with seven relevant deaths, in the megapolis on May 4. 

Only on May 2, according to a report compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), Lahore topped among the districts of Pakistan for reporting 26% of the country’s total COVID-19 cases, while Karachi was second at 14%. 

In the meantime Karachi’s COVID-19 case fatality rate (CFR) decrease to 2.08% on May 4, against the provincial overall CFR of 1.73%, which, according to analysts can be attributed to the considerable increase in the numbers of new testing against the virus in the city. 

According to official data updated on May 4, Karachi reported the biggest increase in the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in a week as 2,361, about 40% of its total confirmed cases. The average number of new cases per day came as 337 through the week (April 28 to May 4).

The experts reckoned that the manner in which the death toll has increased in the recent days across the province it called for improved, timely and quality interventions in the case of COVID-19 affected population, otherwise the CFR will increase considerably, particularly at a time when peak of the diseases is yet awaited.

A comparative study of the provincial data suggested that corona tests are either not being conducted in almost half of the districts of Sindh or the people tested there are not found having contracted the lethal virus in last couple of days. 

The various districts including Jamshoro, Badin, Naushro Feroz, Thatta, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Kasmore, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, though included in the lists of virus infected districts did not show any new cases. 

The COVID-19 cases update issued by the Sindh health department on May 5 informed that Khairpur reported 20 new cases, followed by Kamber Shahdadkot (9), Ghotki (8), Hyderabad (4), Jacobabad (3), Sujawal (1) and Sanghar (1), in addition to Karachi (371 new cases). 

All the patients having died of COVID-19 during the last 24 hours, ending at 8 am on May 4 belonged to Karachi. They were all males, aged from 43 to 79 years, said an official source, adding that six of them lost their lives in the government hospitals while the seventh one expired at home. 

The latest deaths pushed the COVID-19 death tally to 124 for Karachi (six districts) and 137 for Sindh. Other districts which reported the deaths include Sukkur (5), Hyderabad (3), Shaheed Benazirabad (1), Tando Allahyar (1), Ghotki (1) Matiari (1) and Larkana (1). 

With the addition of 2,571 people who were tested for the virus, the total number of the examined people reached to 66,623 across the province, while the total number people detected positive for COVID-19 came as 7,882; ie the overall provincial infection rate remained 11.83 %. The patients who recovered from the disease numbered 1,629 so far in the province, according to the health department data.

Former KBCA chief passes away in Canada

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Mohammed Hussain Syed, a former Chief Controller of Buildings, Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA), passed away in Canada on May 4. He was 80. He had gone to Canada about a year back to see his children there. He leaves behind three daughters and two sons to mourn his death besides the widow.

A civil engineer by profession and also a senior Aligarhian, Mohammed Hussain had joined the KBCA in 1979 as Deputy Controller of Buildings where, because of his sheer professionalism, he reached the coveted position of the Chief Controller. 

He also served the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) as Member Planning. 

Upon retirement from the KBCA, his services were acquired by the late Z A Nizami, the then Chancellor of the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET), Karachi, as Director Planning. 

Mohammad Hussain continued working proactively at the SSUET until quitting the job soon after the death of the Founder Chancellor. 

He also remained an energetic Aligarhian, taking active part in the affairs and activities of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association (AMUOBA). 

He was known and respected for his reputation as a thorough gentlemen and a competent civil engineer. 

His former senior colleagues have expressed their deep grief over his passing away and prayed to Allah to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant fortitude to family members to bear the irreparable loss.

Financial institutions join hands to support low income households

Pakistan News & Features Services

Some of the top financial institutions of the country have joined hands to work together to support the low income households in Pakistan during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The initiative was taken by National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) which had hosted a virtual roundtable meeting last month to discuss the issues and challenges facing the Non-Bank Microfinance Institutions (NBMFIs) and their customers as a consequence of the economic slowdown due to the pandemic. 

The roundtable was attended by the CEOs of Pakistan’s largest NBMFIs including the National Rural Support Program, Kashf Foundation, Damen Support Program, SAFCO Support Program, Thardeep Foundation, Rural Community Development Program and Agahi. 

The consultation, presided over by Arif Usmani, President, NBP, included Zubyr Soomro, Chairman, NBP, and Sadaffe Abid, Director, NBP, who is also Chair of the bank’s Inclusive Development Committee. 

The key sector players like the CEOs of Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN) and the Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company (PMIC) were also invited to examine the state of the microfinance industry and explore opportunities to develop a sector wide approach.

The purpose of the roundtable was to assess the nature, size and scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the microfinance clients’ income and wellbeing. The microfinance sector reaches over 7 million borrowers across the country, 50% of whom are women. 

Zubyr Soomro, Chairman, NBP, in his opening remarks, urged the microfinance players to take a long term approach, strengthen their lending standards, systems and manage resources efficiently. 

The NBP leadership highlighted its inclusive development mandate and commitment to serve the nation through playing a leadership role in forging strategic alliances to help key institutions to manage their way through these times and increase their efforts to address poverty in the country. 

The dialogue will facilitate developing a holistic response for the microfinance sector in terms of the possible support required by the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The initiative was aimed at assessing the quantum and size of the NBMFI requirements as well as to launch a process of designing and implementing a twofold solution. Firstly, to understand ways to ensure the NBMFI sector continues to be able to support its current client needs in the short and medium term during the present crisis, and secondly, to plan financing that would be required as the economy returns to a state of normalcy.

The NBMFIs appreciated the action of the SECP, which regulates the NBMFI sector, for allowing them to defer loan payments from their borrowers to ease the financial burden on low income households. 

All participants welcomed the initiative of the NBP to have organized the roundtable at a very critical juncture. 

The roundtable concluded with a commitment that the NBMFIs, PMN, PMIC and NBP would work together to help sustain and support low income households during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the economic wellbeing of millions of low income households intrinsically linked to the well-being of the NBMFIs a holistic approach must be undertaken.

Radiologist dies tragically onboard ambulance

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

An expert in medical imaging techniques died of COVID-19 onboard an ambulance in Karachi on May 3. 

The death of the radiologist, Dr Furqan-ul-Haq, a retired officer of the Karachi Institute of Heart Diseases (KIHD), was highlighted by social media as well as television channels, claiming that he, onboard the ambulance, tried at a couple of hospitals for an intensive care intervention but failed. 

His colleagues and acquaintances cursed the hospitals for not accommodating him in his critical condition of life and regretted that the physician who served the city of Karachi and the country could not get hold of a hospital bed in his last moment. “Eventually he was brought dead at a government medical university hospital.". 

Dr Haq was associated with a private sector health facility before he tested positive for COVID-19 and was suffering from shortness of breath (dyspnea) for last one day at home where he had quarantined himself after knowing that he was infected with the virus. 

A doctor related to the deceased shared that her uncle (Dr Haq) was initially unwilling to visit any hospital saying he has got daughters and there will be enormous social pressure in the wake of Coronavirus illness. 

‘The government should look into the aspects of social and legal pressures on the patient in the context of COVID-19,” the doctor suggested. 

In the meantime, an insider informed that COVID-19 patients in considerable number had lost their lives while fighting the diseases at home. 

“However, little is known about what the administrative and health officers have been doing with such at-home patients in the context of medical treatment and related social and financial issues.” 

Another keen observer said that when the concerned authorities were unable to offer life supporting machines to COVID-19 patients with severed breathing it created doubts in people’s mind about the governmental claims and exposed its relevant strategies, if any.