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ISLAMABAD: The government is targeting vaccinating 70 million people by the end of calendar year 2021 as under the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP), the country has put together an ambitious plan to procure vaccines through three channels including donations, outright government purchases, and private imports of vaccine.

This has been stated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its updated report, "Policy Actions Taken by Countries" which reviewed various steps Pakistan has taken to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

The report stated that the government has already vaccinated 501,023 people as of March 22, 2021.

First in line are frontline healthcare workers and the population above 65 years of age, who are expected to be vaccinated in Q1 and Q2 of calendar year 2021.

Under the NDVP, Pakistan has planned to procure vaccines through three channels:

(i) Donations. Pakistan applied to the COVAX facility to cover 20 percent of adult population (102 million doses, US$340 million), including frontline workers (15 million doses, US$91 million) and adults over 65 years (22 million doses, US$131million). By end-January 2021, COVAX/GAVI confirmed the allocation of 17.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Pakistan, six million doses of which were scheduled to arrive to Pakistan by mid-March, and the rest by June 2021.

There are reportedly shipment delays related to the export of the vaccine from India where AstraZeneca is manufactured.

Pakistan has so far received one million Sinopharm doses donated by China.

(ii) Outright government purchases, with funding expected from ADB and WB.

The WB is expected to provide US$150 million for the purchase of additional vaccines, by reallocating unexecuted funds from other COVID-related facilities. The government has also reached out to WB to provide technical assistance on issues related to procurement, distribution, and storage of the vaccine. The ADB will provide funding under the recently created Asia Pacific Vaccine Facility.

In addition, the ADB will provide US$199 million for the vaccination of priority population (around 13.47 million people) and US$8 million for the purchase of equipment such as syringes, safety boxes, and for operational and supply chain management.

In addition, on February 12, the authorities submitted an expression of interest (EOI) for Pfizer vaccine.

(iii) Private imports of vaccine. The government has allowed private laboratories to import and deliver vaccines. The first of such arrangements is for Sputnik V by one of the largest pathology labs of Pakistan; the first doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive soon. The report further stated that in mid-March 2021, a third wave of infections started to emerge, with a steep rise in the number of cases (exceeding 3,500 daily cases in the past few days), and a jump in the positivity rate to 8.5 percent from 4.5 percent on March 14.

As of now, this wave seems more acute than the second wave in November–January; however, indicators are still lower than the highs of the first wave in 2020.

Reportedly new variant of the virus has spread in Punjab where the main rise in cases has occurred.

The report stated that a relief package worth Rs1.2 trillion (2.9 percent of GDP) was announced by the federal government on March 24, of which Rs715 billion (1.7 percent of GDP) was executed in fiscal year 2020.

The report stated that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has expanded the scope of existing refinancing facilities and introduced three new ones to: (i) support hospitals and medical centers to purchase COVID-19-related equipment (43 hospitals, Rs10.1 billion, to date); (ii) stimulate investment in new manufacturing plants and machinery, as well as modernisation and expansion of existing projects (487 new projects, Rs430 billion, to date); (iii) incentivise businesses to avoid laying off their workers during the pandemic (2,958 firms , Rs238 billion, to date).

The SBP introduced temporary regulatory measures to maintain banking system soundness and sustain economic activity. These include: (i) reducing the capital conservation buffer by 100 basis points to 1.5 percent; (ii) increasing the regulatory limit on extension of credit to SMEs by 44 percent to Rs180 million; (iii) relaxing the debt burden ratio for consumer loans from 50 percent to 60 percent; (iv) allowing banks to defer clients’ payment of principal on loan obligations by one year (Rs659 billion being deferred to date); (v) relaxing regulatory criteria for restructured loans for borrowers who require relief beyond the extension of principal repayment for one year; and (vi) suspending bank dividends for the first two quarters of 2020 to shore up capital. The SBP has also introduced mandatory targets for banks to ensure loans to construction activities account for at least five percent of the private sector portfolios by December 2021.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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