ISLAMABAD: As the government is going to launch Covid-19 vaccination drive for senior citizens on March 10 (tomorrow), the people holding Pakistan Origin Cards (POCs) and foreign national spouses of Pakistanis are found ineligible to be inoculated, it emerged on Monday.
The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) admitted that the POC holders are very much Pakistanis and decided to address the issue at the earliest.
According to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) website, the POC programme endeavours to provide eligible foreigners with unprecedented incentives to get back to their roots, while ensuring that the motherland remains tightly integrated with expatriates worldwide, which includes multiple visa-free entry into Pakistan, indefinite stay in Pakistan with exemption from reporting to police or foreigners’ registration offices, etc. They also have the right to purchase, sell, own, deal with and dispose of movable and immovable property anywhere in Pakistan, right to open and operate bank accounts in Pakistan, swift immigration into/from Pakistan at all designated routes, port and places. It states that POC was proof of identity in place of National Identity Card and the holders of card can obtain employment.
According to Nadra sources, there are 180,000 persons to whom POCs have been issued. However, it could not be confirmed how many of them were over 60 years of age.
An official of the Ministry of NHS, requesting anonymity, confirmed to Dawn that helpline 1166 was not registering the POC holders for vaccination.
Javed Akhtar, in his 70s, told Dawn that he had sent his Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) number to the helpline and received confirmation that he was registered and would soon get the jab of Covid-19 vaccine. However, he regretted, it did not work for his American wife, though she had been living with him in Pakistan for decades.
“I sent her POC number, which also has 13 digits just like CNIC, but I was informed that it was not a valid card. I tried it again and again and every time got the same message. Later, when I inquired I was shocked to know that POC holders were ineligible for vaccination,” he said.
Mr Akhtar, a resident of Islamabad, said: “As Covid-19 vaccine is not available in the market, I want to ask the decision-makers whether I will have to send my wife to the United States for vaccination. It is a matter of embarrassment for me that my wife, who has been living with me here for three decades, is ineligible for vaccination.”
Talking to Dawn, spokesperson for the Ministry of NHS Sajid Shah said all POC holders should be eligible for vaccination as they were considered Pakistanis.
“I have talked to the higher authorities and have been told that soon a meeting will be held to discuss the issue. We will sort out the matter and POC holders will be declared eligible for vaccination,” he added.
According to National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) data, as many as 1,592 new cases of Covid-19 and 22 more deaths were reported over the past 24 hours.
There were 18,415 active cases in the country. A total of 2,071 patients were hospitalised across the country and 211 of them were on ventilators on Monday.