AMRITSAR: Policemen check the travel documents of Pakistani nationals, who were stranded in India following the closure of borders in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, before they were allowed to cross the India-Pakistan border on Tuesday through the Attari-Wagah post, some 35km from here.—AFP
AMRITSAR: Policemen check the travel documents of Pakistani nationals, who were stranded in India following the closure of borders in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, before they were allowed to cross the India-Pakistan border on Tuesday through the Attari-Wagah post, some 35km from here.—AFP

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: As three cases of the potentially more contagious coronavirus variant — first detected in the UK — were confirmed on Tuesday by the health department of Sindh, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) suggested to the masses not to get panicked.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of NHS Sajid Shah said that out of five samples, two were being analysed at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and three at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi.

According to the Sindh health department, 12 samples of UK returnees were taken for genotyping out of which six were positive and three showed the new variant of coronavirus in the first phase. “The genotyping showed 95 per cent match of the new variant from the UK. These samples will go through another phase of genotyping. Meanwhile, the contact tracing of these patients is in process and their contacts are also being isolated,” it explained.

The NHS ministry said: “Based on the preliminary analysis, five samples of Covid-19 may have the variant reported in the UK. That particular variant may be more transmissible but there is no evidence so far to suggest that the infection caused by this variant is more severe. This strain has also been detected in other countries.”

NCOC advises masses not to get panicked, reviews national vaccine strategy

The first case of the new variant of coronavirus can be traced back to late September in the south of England, indicating that there was ample time for it to spread undetected across the UK and into other countries. Now that the alarm has been raised, scientists around the globe are actively searching for and tracking this variant that is thought to pass more easily between people.

More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on Britain in recent days to help prevent more spread. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, however, has warned against punishing nations that transparently share such information, saying “only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope”.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had also recommended suspension of flight operations with the UK and also issued new guidelines for passengers who had arrived from the UK or the Pakistanis travelling from different countries to Pakistan in coming days.

NIH Executive Director Maj Gen Aamer Ikram had predicted that sooner or later the virus would reach Pakistan as incubation period of the virus was six days and there were chances that a carrier of virus would be declared negative in the UK and later found positive after arriving Pakistan. He suggested that every passenger should be tested and quarantined to ensure that the virus was detected.

“The government has taken a number of steps to respond to this development. On the 21st December 2020, the NCOC decided to limit and restrict travel from the UK to Pakistan only to certain categories of travellers and only under strict protocols that mandated a negative PCR test before the flight, a PCR test upon arrival in Pakistan and quarantine as prescribed by the authorities. Moreover, track, trace and quarantine policy was also initiated for passengers who had arrived from the UK. These measures are in place until 4th January 2021,” the NHS spokesperson said.

“In addition, viruses detected from individuals coming from the UK are also being evaluated in select laboratories for the presence of this variant. Based on this proactive effort, there are five samples which may have the variant strain, based on preliminary analysis. These results have to be confirmed through further analysis (whole genome sequencing) which will take some more days to complete,” he said.

He said the NCOC and ministry of NHS were following it closely and necessary updates would be provided in due course.

Vaccine availability

Meanwhile, the NCOC in its Tuesday session reviewed National Vaccine Strategy, pandemic data, and efforts made to ensure early availability and administration of the vaccine.

“The Forum was briefed over negotiations being made with the international vaccine manufacturers in order to get in time the Covid-19 vaccine. The Forum was also briefed over vaccine administration and immunization plan, training of the staff whereas the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) representatives were also directed to designate focal points at district and tehsil level for grassroots level penetration of the programme,” a statement issued by the NCOC explained.

The NCOC noted that the training of the staff should be spearheaded for positive and effective outcomes of the immunization programme. The health experts highlighted the increasing ratio of Covid-19 positivity and deaths due to the deadly virus. The NCOC also resolved that non-pharmaceutical interventions (alternative measures to treat the virus) or NPIs implementation should be ensured at all levels for mitigating the pandemic outbreak risk.

According to the NCOC data, 1,776 new cases and 63 more deaths were reported from the virus in a day and number of active cases reached to 39,599.

Across Pakistan, 305 patients were on ventilators. In Multan 49pc vents were occupied, in Islamabad 40pc, Peshawar 32pc and in Lahore 32pc vents were occupied. Data of beds equipped with oxygen supply showed that 64pc such beds were occupied in Peshawar, 40pc Multan, 33pc in Islamabad and 31pc beds in Rawalpindi.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2020

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