ISLAMABAD: The government has permitted the commercial sales of Covid-19 vaccines and the first batch of Sputnik V is expected to arrive in March, said International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF, in its updated report, said, ‘Policy Actions Taken by Countries’ which reviewed various steps Pakistan has taken to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, stated that the authorities are working on mobilizing funds from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for the direct purchase of additional vaccines in an amount of $250 million.

Pakistan began the vaccination drive in early February after receiving the first batch of 0.5 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by the China; another 0.6 million doses of the vaccine are expected to be delivered by the end of month.

The UN’s COVAX Facility, aimed at covering priority groups—around 20 percent of the population, has confirmed that Pakistan will receive 17.2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the first half of 2021 including 6 to 7 million doses by March 2021.

The government has also approved the Sputnik V vaccine and is in discussions with several of the vaccine manufacturers (e.g. expression of interest placed with Pfizer in the second week of February).

It further stated that ADB is mobilizing $199 million for the vaccination of 13.47 million people (priority population), with an additional funding of $8 million for syringes, safety boxes, operational and supply chain management. In addition to the doses, cold chain support from ADB is also secured, while an application to Gavi has been submitted to cover the shortage of walk-in cold rooms and refrigerators.

Starting Feb 2021, schools and all educational institutes were resumed normal opening hours, except in a few major cities. In the last week of February, restrictions on the time and capacity limits of commercial and business activities were also lifted. Furthermore, permission has been granted to reopen wedding halls, cinemas and shrines in mid-March.

It further 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, Rs 10.1 billion, to date); (ii) stimulate investment in new manufacturing plants and machinery, as well as modernization and expansion of existing projects (487 new projects, Rs 430 billion, to date); (iii) incentivize businesses to avoid laying off their workers during the pandemic (2,958 firms , Rs 238 billion, to date). These facilities have been extended beyond their original deadline of June 2020 to September or December 2020.

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 Rs 180 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 (Rs 659 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 5 percent of the private sector portfolios by December 2021.