ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The spectre of a fresh wave of Covid-19 loomed over the country on Thursday as the number of people reported to have contracted the potentially fatal disease in a day topped the figure of 2,000 after a gap of about a month, with half of those infected belonging to Punjab.
The country’s most populous province seemed to be in the eye of the brewing storm not just because of the high number of people infected but also due to the presence there of a rather dangerous strain of the virus.
A press release issued by the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) on Thursday morning said 2,258 cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours across the country, marking the first time since late January when more than 2,000 cases were reported. On Jan 29, a total of 2,186 cases were reported.
According to the data released, the positivity rate for the virus was 5.3 per cent, which had remained below 4pc in February. The rate was based on the results of 42,164 Covid-19 tests that were carried out on Wednesday.
British strain of coronavirus said to be active in four cities of Punjab
The total number of active cases in the country stood at 17,628 as of Thursday.
According to the NCOC statement, during the previous 24 hours 1,290 cases were reported from Punjab, 350 from Islamabad, 289 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 256 from Sindh, 57 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and 16 from Balochistan.
With the new cases, the tally of Covid-19 patients in the country rose to 597,497.
Thursday was the second day when more than 1,000 cases were reported from the country’s most populous province. The province also reported 33 deaths during the previous 24 hours.
Punjab’s total number of infections has risen to 180,944 and the death toll to 5,662. The previous day the province had recorded 1,006 cases and 29 deaths.
The NCOC statement said that 81 cases each were recorded in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad, followed by 58 in Gujrat.
Meanwhile, the spike in the infection rate in Punjab has been attributed to the presence in its four cities of a British variant of the deadly virus.
According to data generated by the next-generation sequencing (NGS) system, which has been imported from China, the United Kingdom’s highly infectious variant is present in Lahore, Jhelum, Okara and Gujrat.
“The cluster-based surveillance of samples from different pockets of Punjab, including the four cities, shows about 70pc spike which correlates to the already-reported UK variant strain,” said a health official.
He said a technical team of Punjab’s health department was working to get the sequencing data.
“…The erratic behaviour of the virus has increased the importance of sequencing the strains,” a senior official of the department said.
He said it was only possible through the NGS system to find the root-cause of the change in virus behaviour. “The NGS system was installed last month and we found 60 variants or mutations in multiple samples, with two unreported mutations…,” he said.
At least one of them is highly damaging due to its change in protein function, the official said.
According to him, 70 per cent of the total cases reported in Punjab since April were of the infection originating in Wuhan, China.
Provincial Health Minister Prof Dr Yasmin Rashid also warned about the new spike in infections across the province and linked it to infections from the UK and China.
She said the NCOC, during a recent meeting, held a brainstorming session about the presence of the British variant of the virus in Punjab’s four cities. “A majority of the people are getting infected by UK’s new highly infectious variant in Punjab’s four cities,” she said.
“The infection rate is alarmingly increasing in Punjab. Gujranwala city has reported highest 9pc positivity rate of the virus, Lahore and Multan 8pc, Faisalabad 6pc and Rawalpindi reported 4pc infection rate,” said the minister.
She said that keeping in view the disturbing reports, smart lockdown had been imposed in 41 localities in Punjab, where the movement of about 4,500 people had been restricted.
Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2021