• Curbs to remain in place for two weeks
• Over 5,000 new cases, 73 deaths reported
• Minister sounds alarm over deteriorating situation

ISLAMABAD: To prevent the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19 in Pakistan, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Monday placed India in the category C list, banning entry of inbound passengers from the country through air and land routes for two weeks.

On the other hand, Pakistan reported over 5,000 coronavirus patients in a single day, which although high was still less than the figure recorded during the last one week when cases hovered over 6,000.

According to a statement, a meeting of the NCOC was held, which was presided over by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar.

“The forum was briefed about the spread of the new Indian variant (double mutant variant) which is being considered responsible for the present disease surge in India,” the statement said.

Therefore, the NCOC has decided to place India in the list of category C countries for two weeks, prohibiting entry of inbound passengers from India via air and land routes.

“In view of the presence of Indian virus in other countries, a review of category C countries will be carried out on Wednesday (April 21),” the statement added.

Talking to Dawn, microbiologist Prof Dr Javaid Usman said initially there was only one strain, but later the virus started mutating, leading to the emergence of the South African, Brazilian and United Kingdom variants.

“We need to know that some mutations go in favour of the virus and some against it as the virus becomes self destructive or harmless. The South African, Brazilian and United Kingdom variants were more transmissible but luckily they were not more virulent. Even the vaccine manufacturers claimed that their vaccines were equally effective against the new strains,” he said.

“However in India, a double variant has been discovered which means that the virus has mutated twice. Though India lacks the capacity to identify whether the variant is more virulent, according to assumptions there is a possibility that it can be more virulent as around 300,000 cases and 1,600 deaths were reported in a single day,” Dr Usman said.

University of Health Sciences (UHS) Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Javed Akram told Dawn that the Indian variant emerged in the state of Maharashtra, and so far five variations and two mutations – E484Q and L452R – have been reported in the virus.

“The virus has been spreading in a number of states of India and there was a high chance that it would reach Pakistan as both South Asian countries had huge passenger traffic with the UAE. Besides, the virus spreads like fire and is therefore very difficult to control its transmission,” Dr Akram said.

“In December 2019 and early 2020 China tried its best to contain the virus in Wuhan city but it could not. The virus initially spread to other areas of the country and then reached other parts of the world, finally becoming a pandemic,” he added.

The UHS vice chancellor said the South African, Brazilian and United Kingdom variants were present in Pakistan but there was still no evidence about the prevalence of the Indian strain.

Replying to a question, he said the variations come in virus when they rapidly multiply or spread among people.

“So far no variation has been observed in China as it managed to control the spread. We have started a study called ‘Next Generation Sequencing’ of the virus to determine whether vaccines were equally effective against mutated viruses. We have been sending samples to a lab in China and will soon find out if vaccines work against the mutated virus,” Dr Akram added.

Meanwhile, Asad Umar, in his tweet, claimed that Covid-19 had become a global threat, stressing on the need to take precautionary measures.

“Global Covid cases exceeding 750,000 per day and deaths more than 13,000. We are seeing some of the worst numbers since Covid started. Our neighbourhood in severe crises. Daily deaths in Iran more than 300 and India more than 1600. Need for safety precautions greater than ever,” Mr Asad tweeted.

Painting a gloomy picture of Pakistan, the minister, in another tweet, said: “Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4500, which is 30% higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress. Sop compliance remains low. We are making a huge mistake by not following sop’s.”

According to data released by the NCOC, 5,152 cases and 73 deaths were reported in a single day. The number of active cases has swelled to 82,276.

As many as 538 ventilators were in use across the country, with 100 per cent occupied in Nowshera and over 80pc in Gujranwala, Multan and Lahore. Similarly over 70pc oxygenated beds were in use in Gujranwala, Mardan, Peshawar and Gujrat.

So far 761,437 cases have been detected with 662,845 people recovering from the virus, which was a significant count.

There are currently 5,349 patients under treatment in various hospitals in the country, the NCOC data revealed.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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