The National Institute of Health (NIH) on Tuesday said that a total of 75 cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant had been confirmed in the country so far.
In a statement, the NIH said that the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC), the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) and the provincial departments were vigilantly keeping an eye on Omicron cases in Pakistan ever since it was designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“The first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was reported on December 13 in Karachi,” the statement said.
“As of December 27, a total of 75 Omicron cases have been confirmed; 33 in Karachi, 17 in Islamabad and 13 in Lahore,” the statement said, adding that the remaining 12 cases were associated with international travel. The NIH did not provide any further details.
“The relevant authorities have isolated the patients and initiated contract tracing in order to control the spread of the variant,” the NIH said.
“All government approved Covid-19 vaccines available in Pakistan remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation. The government urges everyone to get both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine as well as the booster dose as per the eligibility criteria and process,” the statement said.
On December 25, Islamabad confirmed its first case. Islamabad District Health Officer (DHO) Zaeem Zia said that the case was detected in a 47-year-old male, adding that he was working in Islamabad and had travelled out of city for work-related purposes. The patient had no history of travelling abroad, he said.
Last month, Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had sounded the alarm, saying that the arrival of the Omicron variant was inevitable.
“This [strain] has to spread in the whole world as we saw before that when a variant comes, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop it,” Umar had said, adding that vaccination was the most logical solution to curb the threat.
Pakistan had placed a complete ban on November 27 on travel from six South African countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia – and Hong Kong in the wake of the variant’s discovery.
This travel ban was later extended to nine more countries – Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland and Zimbabwe.
Additionally, the National Command and Operating Centre placed 13 countries – United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, France, Austria, Afghanistan and Turkey – in category B.
All passengers from these countries need to be fully vaccinated, while everyone above the age of six must possess a negative PCR test report issued not more than 48 hours before boarding.
Omicron has been classified by the World Health Organisation as a “highly transmissible” variant – the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.
Meanwhile, infections hit new highs in multiple US states and Europe, wreaking havoc on global air travel. Governments worldwide are scrambling to boost vaccinations, stressing that the overwhelming majority of hospitalisations and deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated.
Some 11,500 flights have been scrapped worldwide since Friday and tens of thousands more delayed, during one of the year’s busiest travel periods – with multiple airlines saying spikes in cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have caused staffing shortages.
Earlier in the day, the NCOC issued the latest coronavirus statistics, suggesting that the positivity rate in Pakistan remained 0.69 per cent during the last 24 hours.
As many as 291 new COVID-19 infections were confirmed after 41,869 diagnostic tests were conducted overnight, while three patients succumbed to the virus during the same period.
Separately, Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare (P&SH) Department Secretary Imran Sikandar Baloch said on Tuesday that 60 new cases of coronavirus were reported from across the province during the last 24 hours.
The total number of active cases was 2,601, he said. He added that 17,073 tests were conducted in last 24 hours and a total of 8.86 million tests were conducted altogether.
In Rawalpindi district, nine people were diagnosed with coronavirus during the last 24 hours, raising the tally of confirmed cases to 36,500.
According to the latest data released by the District Health Authority, four cases were reported from Rawalpindi Cantonment, one from Kallar Syedan, two from Potohar Town, one from Rawal Town and one from Taxila.
“Presently, 19 confirmed patients were under treatment at three medical facilities, including four in Benazir Bhutto Hospital, three in Fauji Foundation and 12 in the Rawalpindi Institute of Urology.”