LAHORE: The Punjab government has sent samples of five passengers of a flight from the UK, who tested positive for the coronavirus and were suspected to have typical symptoms of the virus’new variant, to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad.

After noticing the coronavirus new variant symptoms in these passengers, the health authorities immediately quarantined them amid strict surveillance, until reports of their lab tests are received from the NIH.

Despite Pakistan being listed among the countries reporting the virus’ new strain,the Punjab government has yet to provide any lab in the public sector for gene sequencing of the suspected patients’ samples.

“All the five patients whose samples were drawn and sent to the NIH, Islamabad, had tested positive for the coronavirus,” a spokesperson for the health department confirmed to Dawn on Tuesday.

According to official figures, the international flights carrying a total 2,860 passengers had arrived in Lahore from the UK, and 44 others from South Africa, from Dec 23 to Jan 21.

The patients have returned from UK

Of those coming from the UK, 23 passengers tested positive for Covid-19. Similarly, three of those returning from South Africa were also found positive. The test results of 512 UK-returnees and the three others were yet to be issued.

All these passengers were isolated at their respective homes for two weeks.

As per international studies and the Punjab health department’s documents, the new strain detected in the UK was up to 70per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant virus strain.

Following the non-availability of the genotype testing in the province to analyse the new virus strain, the primary and secondary healthcare department has sought permission from the Punjab government to purchase gene sequence equipment.

Given the seriousness of the issue, the department has stressed the need for procurement of the equipment on an emergency basis during financial year 2020-21, also seeking additional Rs50 million funds for the purpose.

Meanwhile, Punjab has witnessed a sudden and rapid increase in the new positive cases of the virus and related deaths across the province.

The official update revealed that a total 40 patients died of Covid-19 during the last 24 hours in Punjab, taking the death toll to 4,608 so far.

Similarly, the total number of the positive cases reached 1,54,717 after 700 more people tested positive.

Of them, 395 were reported in Lahore, 45 in Faisalabad, 32 in Rahim Yar Khan and 26 in Rawalpindi.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2021

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