SAPM on Health warns of rapid spread of new COVID-19 variant and stresses importance of vaccination to avoid serious infections
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in cities across Pakistan and we expect it to spike even further in the coming days, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan warned on Wednesday, as he stressed upon the importance of vaccines to prevent serious infections.
“We should not be under the misconception that we can’t get seriously affected by the new variant,” he told a press conference alongside Planning Minister Asad Umar. “Even mild cases have caused significant issues for people,” he warned, noting that all available data showed that this variant spread “very quickly.”
However, he emphasized, it was also clear that areas with high vaccination rates suffered far less than those with low vaccine uptake. “Our analysis is that available vaccines are sufficient to protect from severe disease of Omicron,” he said and reiterated calls for all partially vaccinated individuals to get their second dose and for all unvaccinated citizens to avail the freely available vaccines at their nearest vaccination center. “For people over-30, if it has been six months since your second dose, please get booster shots, which are also free,” he added.
Statistical analysis of COVID spread in Pakistan, said Sultan, showed that vaccinations were especially beneficial for women and the elderly. “If your age is over 40/50, there are greater benefits of vaccines for you,” he said, urging the elderly to not delay their inoculations. Similarly, he said, data also showed that women benefited more from vaccinations than men. “The analysis shows vaccines offer protection to everyone, but especially to women and the elderly,” he added.
Earlier, minister Umar reiterated calls for all citizens to once again adopt preventative measures such as mask compliance and social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “We especially want to highlight the importance of vaccines,” he said.
Comparing data on Omicron’s spread in South Africa, the U.K., the U.S. and Pakistan, he noted that daily COVID-19 cases had jumped from around 116 to 25,000 within 4 weeks in South Africa when the variant first emerged there. Acknowledging that it appeared Omicron was less deadly than last year’s Delta variant, he emphasized that this did not mean it wasn’t dangerous.
“In South Africa, hospitalizations increased by 700% due to Omicron,” he said, noting such a situation risked overburdening the country’s healthcare infrastructure and causing problems for citizens seeking treatment for all maladies. Citing the benefit of vaccinations, he noted that the U.S. had seen a 92% increase in hospitalizations due to Omicron, while the U.K. had witnesses a 134% increase.
“There are significantly more fully vaccinated individuals in the U.S. and the U.K. when compared to South Africa,” he said. “Evidence shows that the threat of Omicron is considerably less for fully vaccinated individuals than people who aren’t vaccinated,” he added.
Coming back to Pakistan, he said that the national positivity ratio had more than doubled in a very short period of time. “This is especially true for residents of urban areas: this virus is most dangerous for people who live in cities,” he said, adding that in the past week 60% of all cases reported nationwide had emerged from Lahore and Karachi. “People in these cities should go to the nearest vaccination center as soon as possible and get inoculated,” he added.
In the past 10-12 days, he said Karachi had reported a 940% increase in infections, while Lahore had likewise seen a 193% spike. “This variant spreads very quickly,” he emphasized and warned that it was likely to surge once more in the coming days.