KARACHI: Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho on Wednesday expressed concern over the recent findings of a study showing high prevalence of UK Covid-19 variant, particularly in Karachi, and urged the people to ensure strict compliance with preventive protocols related to coronavirus.

“Like rest of the provinces, cases of UK-variant have also been reported from Sindh. Fifty per cent of the positive samples recently tested under a genomic study in Karachi were found to be of UK-variant,” she said in a video message.

This variant had high transmissibility and was more dangerous than other variants. It had affected a significant number of people in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and caused many deaths, she added.

“We have serious fears that the variant might spread fast as rush in the markets is increasing and soon people will start their Eid preparations,” she said.

The minister urged the public to follow Covid-19-related standard operating procedures. “It’s extremely important that you take due precautions when you are in crowded places; wear a face mask and ensure social distancing. It’s the only way we can save our life and that of our loved ones and the communities we live in.”

The Covid-19 vaccination centres set up across Sindh, she pointed out, were open after iftar. People above 50 years of age should get themselves registered at 1166 and get a vaccine jab.

Experts say no quarantine on arrival in Pakistan from any country leads to a rapid introduction of variants

New Covid-19 variants

Experts have been raising concern over the spread of various Covid-19 variants in different countries, posing a greater challenge to treat patients as well as to ensure safety and efficacy of vaccines.

A study conducted a few months back in Karachi suggested that the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants of coronavirus might be responsible for the current severe third wave of Covid-19 in Pakistan.

The study, which analysed 3,501 positive samples, found that these variants were responsible for causing 54pc of new Covid-19 infections reported from December 2020 to February 2021 in Karachi.

According to the study, the positivity ratio in the months of September to November 2020 was 1.538pc, which jumped to 7.6pc in December 2020 to February 2021.

This dramatic rise in cases, the study shows, clearly indicates importation of cases (to Pakistan) from the countries where these viral strains were spreading before and during November 2020.

Dr Rafiq Khanani, a senior pathologist and president of the Infection Control Society of Pakistan, had conducted the study with colleagues Dr Muhammad Hanif and Dr Adnan Dinar, both molecular biologists.

“Unmonitored international flights and no quarantine on arrival in Pakistan from any country seemed to have led to a rapid introduction of the variants in Pakistan,” Dr Khanani explained.

The analysis had found the UK variant in 944 samples and Brazilian and South African variants (together) in 934 samples. There were 1,623 cases of old viral infection.

Experts at Karachi University’s National Centre for Virology had also detected the South African variant along with the UK variant in the samples tested at the facility.

“Around 50pc of the positive cases tested at the facility involved the UK variant while 25pc were the South African variant. There is a need for genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 to timely identify and contain the rapidly emerging new strains of the virus,” said Prof Dr Mohammad Iqbal Choudhary, director of Karachi University’s International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021

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