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Omicron’s Spread Gains Pace in Pakistan

by Newsweek Pakistan
Coronavirus test results

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NIH says 75 confirmed cases of the new variant of concern have been detected nationwide thus far

Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) on Tuesday announced that 75 confirmed cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus had been detected in the country since it was designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November.

“The first case of Omicron was reported on Dec. 13 in Karachi. As of Dec. 27, a total of 75 Omicron cases have been confirmed; 33 in Karachi, 17 in Islamabad and 13 in Lahore. Twelve cases were associated with international travel. The relevant authorities have isolated the patients and initiated contact tracing in order to control the spread of the variant,” read a statement issued by the NIH. Four more cases of Omicron were confirmed in Islamabad on Tuesday evening, taking the city’s total to 21 and the national tally to 79.

“Vaccination and SOPs [standard operating procedures] continue to be our best defense against COVID-19 despite the mutations being reported. All government-approved COVID-19 vaccines available in Pakistan remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization,” the NIH stressed. “The government urges everyone to get both doses of COVID-19 vaccine as well as the booster dose as per the eligibility criteria and process,” it added.

Officials at the Ministry of Health, meanwhile, told daily The News that they feared that Pakistan could face a fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic around the middle of February 2022, warning that daily cases could spike to 3,000-4,000 as local transmission of the Omicron variant expanded beyond the country’s major cities. A key fear among health officials is the undetected spread of the new variant, as several of the new cases confirmed by the NHS have been asymptomatic.

Dr. Javed Akram, a member of the National Scientific Task Force on COVID-19, told daily Dawn that limited testing in Pakistan meant only a percentage of the infected cases were actually detected. “So there can be some of the cases which could not be detected,” he said, adding Omicron could already be silently spreading through the Pakistani population.

On Wednesday, the National Command and Operation Center reported 348 cases of coronavirus in Pakistan after conducting 39,739 tests—a positivity ratio of 0.87 percent. It said that of the 10,065 active cases of COVID-19 nationwide, 636 of them required critical care.

Also on Wednesday, WHO warned that the risk posed by the Omicron variant remained “very high,” as it had a significant growth advantage over the Delta variant. “The rapid growth rate is likely to be a combination of both immune evasion and intrinsic increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant,” it said, adding that a positive indicator was that early data suggested there was a reduced risk of hospitalization for Omicron compared to Delta.

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