COVID-19 ‘extremely unlikely’ to have come from a lab, experts say

NEW YORK, Feb 10, 2021 (LPP):Dr. Peter Ben Embarek from the World Health Organization (WHO) was speaking during a press conference in Wuhan, China, at the end of a four-week mission to the city where the new coronavirus first emerged in December 2019. “Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research”, he said. 

The international team convened by WHO consisted of 17 Chinese experts and an equal number of counterparts from other nations, looking at three areas: epidemiology, molecular research and animal and environment. They visited hospitals and other sites in Wuhan, including the Huanan Market where the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first detected, and identified four main hypotheses of how it could have been transmitted to humans. “However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain introduction of the virus into the human population, and therefore is not a hypothesis that implies to suggest future studies into our work, to support our future work, into the understanding of the origin of the virus”, Dr. Embarek said. 

One hypothesis suggests the virus could have come through the food chain, as frozen products can provide a surface for transmission. Dr. Embarek said frozen animal products, mainly seafood, were sold at Huanan Market, along with products made from wild and farmed animals, some of which came from other parts of China or were imported. “So, there is the potential to continue to follow this lead and further look at the supply chain and animals that were supplied to the markets in frozen and other processed and semi-processed form, or raw form”, he said.

It has been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and as of Tuesday, there were more than 106 million cases worldwide, including some 2.3 million deaths. The investigations conducted in Wuhan will lay the groundwork for virus origin tracing elsewhere, according to the team’s Chinese lead, Dr. Liang Wannian. He said their review of unpublished studies suggests the virus was circulating earlier in other regions. 

“These studies from different countries suggests SARS-CoV-2 circulation preceding the initial detection of cases by several weeks”, said Dr. Liang, speaking through an interpreter. “Some of the suspected positive samples were detected even earlier than the first case reported. This indicates the possibility of the missed reported circulation in other regions.” Dr. Liang added that research also found “no indication” of virus transmission in Wuhan in the period before December 2019.

Senate approves bill to make Arabic mandatory in educational institutes of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Feb 2, 2021(APP, LPP): On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to make the Arabic language mandatory in educational institutions across Islamabad. The bill, moved by PML-N's Javed Abbasi, said that the language should be taught from grade 1-5, while students of classes 6-11 should also learn Arabic grammar.

The minister will ensure the implementation of the bill within six months, the bill's text said. Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Abbasi said that the Holy Quran and daily prayers were recited in Arabic. "Arabic is the fifth-largest language in the world, the official language of 25 countries." Stressing the need for students to learn the language, he said that the country would not be going through problems had the masses understood the Holy Qu'ran.

President for promotion of IT, digital communication to meet country’s needs, serve world

ISLAMABAD, Feb 1, 2021(APP): President Dr Arif Alvi Monday while citing huge potential of young population, called for promotion of information technology and digital communication to meet country’s needs as well as strengthen the economy. Addressing a virtually held inaugural session of 51st Asia Pacific Advanced Network organized by Higher Education Commission, the president said digital communication had always been vital but its importance had been multiplied during the COVID-19 era.

The president appreciated the HEC and other collaborating partners for holding the event attended by around 500 global participants and said the introduction and absorption of IT was inevitable for Pakistan as well as the world. He said Pakistan had adopted two-pronged approach by investing in human capital and technology as the country formulated a comprehensive liberalization policy in 2003 for telecommunication sector. He said the HEC had also done a tremendous work for being responsible to give directions to the universities and colleges.

He said effective communication and effective disbursement of knowledge to all repositories of knowledge had always been important but it had become more important today. The president recalled that even back in 2006, in his address in China, he had called for promotion of distance learning for being an easier and less expensive method of teaching. The president said Pakistan had more than 300,000 English speaking IT professionals having no language barrier. There are 13 software technology parks for encouragement of IT investment with the government giving incentives in the sector.

He said around 20,000 IT graduates and engineers entered the market every year and mentioned his initiative of artificial intelligence to train the youth in network area, blockchain technology, cyber security and other modern fields. He said under the initiative, the government wanted to train the graduates and undergraduates in this field. He said the developed countries like Japan were willing to even absorb 100,000 well-trained IT experts. He said as the need for IT graduates was growing tremendously, the HEC was striving to ensure availability of open source knowledge to all graduates in IT and other sectors.

He said Pakistan was moving towards a digital economy and enabling the people to communicate and exchange knowledge would improve economy in many ways. He said Pakistan had already achieved teledensity with around 176 million cell phone users in its total 220 million population. He said though the COVID had hurt the education sector it gave a boost to IT sector. President Alvi said Pakistan was looking towards e-commerce, e-health, e-finance. He said Pakistan had been able to manage the COVID pandemic situation by ensuring a balance between the lives and livelihood. President Alvi said unlike other countries in the region, Pakistan allowed business activity to avert the hunger related deaths.

He said the ICT exports were growing by 30 percent annually since last five years and freelancing also witnessed 47pc growth. He said Pakistan stood at fourth in freelancing. He said the government has a plan to launch 5G technology in 2022 that would set a new chapter in ICT-based socio economic transformation of Pakistan. Regarding the freelancing revenue, Pakistan stood at 47 pc this year and fourth in freelance development, he added. This shows Pakistan was ready to service the world needing the freelancing software, he added.

The president said Pakistan had 60 percent of its 220 population between 15 to 29 age group and if trained in IT, they could serve the countries and companies in the world. He said HEC was doing tremendous work for promotion of IT education and digital communication by making 60,000 books and journals available online and establishing smart classrooms.

UBD to reopen educational institutes across Sindh from Feb 1

KARACHI, Jan 30, 2021 (LPP):Universities and Board Departments (UBD) announces reopening of all educational institutes operating under the umbrella of UBD from February 1, as per the issued notification on Friday identified. "Government of Sindh has been pleased to declare that all the Public & Private Sector Universities, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Human Resources & Research Development Board (BBSHRRDB) and Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (STEVTA) functioning under the Administrative control of the Universities & Boards Department Government of Sindh shall re-open/resume the academic and research operations w.e.f. 01-02-2021," the notification stated.

However, the notification emphasized the strict observance of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be abided by respective departments. Sindh government had already issued notifications for the reopening of schools and colleges after Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood announced phase-wise reopening of educational institutes.

AJK President lauds online education system in AJK Varsities

MIRPUR (AJK): Jan 27, 2021(APP, LPP):AJK President Sardar Masood Khan has said that despite the outbreak of coronavirus, 400 teachers of Azad Jammu and Kashmir University have set a shining example by imparting distance education to more than 9,000 students through the online system. He said this while addressing the 48th meeting of the Syndicate of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir at Kashmir House Islamabad on Wednesday. “After the outbreak of the coronavirus, the biggest challenge for us was to keep the process of education going in a manner that did not endanger the lives of students, teachers and the public,” he said.

Our universities met this challenge and, realizing the new situation in a timely manner, launched an online education program that saved the lives of students and teachers on the one hand and saved students precious time on the other. Appreciating the efforts of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in this regard, the President expressed the hope that the management of the university would continue to work hard in the future to spread the light of knowledge in the liberated state and introduce new sciences and technologies to the students.

Addressing the syndicate meeting, Azad Jammu and Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Kaleem Abbasi said that all the undergraduate students of the semester starting from Fall 2020 are being imparted education through the online system while on-campus education of post graduates, M.Phil and for PhD students has been restored.

From February 1, 2020-21, education will also be resumed within the university for those students who require a physical presence in laboratories or classes for practical training. “Despite online education, there has been no negative change in the indicators of improvement in the quality of education at the university, which is very gratifying for us,” he said. He said that the University of AJK has so far taken Fall 2019 exam under the online system and besides completing one semester of students through online education, Spring 2020 semester has been successfully continued.

He said that despite the deadly corona, the credit for this success of the Varsity and Kashmir goes to the teachers, students, deans, heads of departments, IT staff and the management of the university. He said that all the credit for introducing uniform the online system in other universities in AJK including University of Azad Kashmir goes to the Chancellor and President Sardar Masood Khan who held regular meetings with the Vice-Chancellors and other administrative officers.

Single national curriculum to begin from August

ISLAMABAD, Jan 27, 2021 (LPP): Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood announced on Wednesday that the country will adopt the Single National Curriculum (SNC) from the next academic year, which will begin from August 2021. The announcement came through the official Twitter account of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, which stated that the ministry has developed the SNC with consultation from the relevant stakeholders for grades pre-1 to 5 and that this “shall be followed by all public and private schools across the country from next academic year”.

A letter was also sent by the ministry to all the provincial and area governments regarding the Textbook Policy under the unified curriculum. According to the ministry, under the directives from the federal minister for education, the new year “would start now in August 2021 due to extension in examination dates to be held in May/June and also prolonged school closures in the academic year of 2020”.

The letter stated that the publishers are “allowed to develop these textbooks aligned with SLOs prescribed by SNC” and that they will require a no-objection certificate (NOC) by the provincial textbook boards so that they may “check any inclusion of anti-Pakistan, anti-religion, and any other hate material”.

The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training has advised all provincial and regional textbook boards to exercise due diligence to ensure that private publishers are producing textbooks in line with the objectives and contents of SNC. The ministry has also advised the textbook boards to facilitate the procedure of NOC without red-tapism and avoiding cumbersome administrative complications.

PK Universities to decide on taking online exams: Shafqat Mahmood

ISLAMABAD, Jan 26, 2021 (LPP): Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood on Monday said that universities had to decide on taking online exams after students’ protest in Lahore against in-person exams. Responding to the students’ protest, Shafqat Mahmood in a series of messages on the micro-blogging website, Twitter, said that some university students are demanding that their exams should be online as they have been studying online.

“This is a decision for the universities to make but I have asked HEC to consult VCs and see if it is possible given special circumstances this year.” He said that the universities should also asses whether they have the technical ability to conduct exams for all students. “No one can be left behind. It is also necessary to ensure that the online exam system is not misused to get easy grades,” he said while stressing the need to prepare good question papers or assessment.