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SC gives govt two days to fix oxygen cylinder’s prices

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government to fix the price of oxygen cylinders across the country due to an increase in demand because of Covid19.

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A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, heard the coronavirus suo motu case and expressed disappointment over a report submitted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on the facilities being provided at quarantine centres.

Additional Attorney General Sohail Mahmood informed the bench that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and the NDMA had submitted their reports to the court.

He added that the government had issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) on April 30 for the import of unregistered medicines.

“In case of emergency, coronavirus medicines, which are not registered in the country, can also be imported.”

In response to being asked by the Chief Justice whether or not there was an inquiry into why the medicines were being ordered, The DRAP CEO said that a one-year exemption was granted to import such medicines but they were usually registered after they arrived in the country.

The CJ further asked the benefit of giving exemption to the medicines, to which he replied that the ventilators and other devices needed during the pandemic were now being manufactured in the country. However, he said that ISO certification had been made necessary for them.

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The judge sought information about the status of availability of medical equipment to deal with the novel coronavirus.

The DRAP chief told the CJ that there was no shortage of coronavirus-related medicines in the country when asked. Besides Actemra [injection], there are other medicines in stock,” he added.

Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel observed that there were many negative reports about Actemra.

The DRAP chief replied that these injections were administered in extremely critical condition.

“There are seven to eight Actemra injections in the country and they are enough for three weeks. But Japan has been contacted to order a new shipment,” he told the court. Oxygen is not an issue that falls under the domain of DRAP, it is related to the industries ministry instead, he added.

CJ Gulzar commented that a large quantity of oxygen could be obtained from the Pakistan Steel Mills if its oxygen plant was reactivated The additional attorney general said the PSM’s oxygen plant was more or less 40 years old. “Reactivating the oxygen plant would cost Rs1 billion. We will provide a detailed report to the court on oxygen,” he added.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Shumail Butt told the court that the price of oxygen cylinders was not fixed during the countrywide rise in Covid-19 cases.

The court ordered the industries ministry to fix the cost of an oxygen cylinder within two days and also work out a pricing procedure. The apex court described the affairs of the NDMA as a ‘mess’.

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Justice Gulzar noted that the government had set up a factory for making N-95 masks for a private company named al-Hafeez. He said that machinery and duties for the factory were paid in cash and it was flown in on a chartered plane.

He also asked why the Pakistani embassy in China was used for buying the equipment. He said that the chartered plane was also arranged through the embassy.

“Does the Pakistani ambassador in China engage in any diplomatic work or only buy things?” the CJ asked.

NDMA Chairman Gen Akhtar Nawaz Satti told the court that he had been recently appointed to the post. CJ Gulzar told him that the court was not concerned about when he was appointed.

“Have you [NDMA chief] visited the quarantine centres after your appointment? Have you seen the conditions at the quarantine centre in Haji Camp where despite spending millions of rupees there is neither drinking water available, nor have its walls been painted,” the judge said

The bench ordered NDMA chief to visit all the quarantine centres and submit a report to the court.

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