First case of Indian variant detected in Pakistan

Published May 29, 2021
Teachers wait their turn to receive the first shot of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine at a school in Lahore on Friday. — AP
Teachers wait their turn to receive the first shot of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine at a school in Lahore on Friday. — AP

• Contact tracing in progress • Walk-in vaccination for people over 30 begins
• Teachers above 18 years can also benefit from facility
• 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to arrive next month

ISLAMABAD: After the UK variant made inroads into various cities of the country, Pakistan reported its first confirmed patient carrying the Indian strain.

Meanwhile, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) decided to open walk-in vaccination for citizens aged 30 years and above as well as for teachers over 18 from Saturday (today).

The National Institute of Health (NIH) on Friday announced that it had detected the first confirmed case of the Indian strain.

In a statement, the national health services ministry spokesperson, Sajid Shah, confirmed the development.

“The Indian variant case was detected by the National Institute of Health which conducted whole-genome sequencing of SARS CoV-2 samples collected during the first three weeks of May 2021,” Mr Shah said.

“The sequencing results confirmed [the] detection of seven cases of B.1.351 (South African variant) and one case of B.1.617.2 (Indian variant),” he said, adding that this was the first in-country detection of the Indian strain.

“As per protocols, contact tracing of all the cases is in progress by the Field Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Division and DHO Islamabad,” the statement said, adding that continued detection of global strains highlighted the ongoing need for observation of guidelines, use of masks and need for vaccination.

Explainer: What we know about the Indian variant as coronavirus sweeps South Asia

Soon after the outbreak of the new variant in India earlier this year, Pakistan imposed a ban on travellers arriving from the country via air, sea and land routes in April.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had revealed that the strain had been found in dozens of countries.

The NCOC, on the other hand, allowed walk-in vaccination facility for people aged 30 and above as well as to teachers over 18 from Saturday (today).

In a tweet on Friday, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said: “In the NCOC meeting today it was decided to open up walk-in vaccination for 30 plus from tomorrow. So if you are 30 or older and registered please go to any vaccination centre and get vaccinated.”

In another tweet, he said: “So far five million people across the country had been vaccinated against Covid-19.”

The minister, who also heads the NCOC, asked people to get inoculated, saying “register for vaccination so that restrictions can be lifted and the country can be put on the path of development and you can live without any fear of the deadly virus”.

According to an official of the NCOC, to ensure safe environment for education and holding of exams, walk-in vaccination for teachers above 18 years of age has also been started.

In a tweet, the forum said teachers could go to any vaccination centre with their computerised national identity cards (CNICs), stamped letter from the head of the institution, their teacher ID cards and get vaccinated.

Earlier this week, Pakistan had started registration of citizens aged 19 and above for the coronavirus vaccination.

In the third week of May, registration of people aged 30 and above began. On May 3, those in the age group between 40 and 49 years started registering themselves and subsequently walk-in vaccination facility was also extended to them.

A digital portal has been launched by the federal government through which a code is assigned to the person who then goes to a designated vaccination centre and gets the jab.

The country started its vaccination campaign in February with doses donated by the Chinese government. The drive initially targeted frontline healthcare workers and then inoculation of senior citizens commenced in the second phase.

Meanwhile, Pakistan reported 2,482 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the tally of patients reported in the country since the outbreak of the pandemic to 913,784. The country’s death toll has climbed to 20,607 after 67 more people succumbed to the deadly virus.

On the other hand, 2,822 patients have recovered from Covid-19, with the total number of recoveries reaching 834,566. According to the NCOC, the number of active cases stands at 58,611.

The maximum number of ventilators was occupied in four major areas. The highest percentage was calculated in Multan where the occupancy rate was 69 per cent, followed by Lahore, 39pc, Peshawar, 36pc and Bahawalpur, 28pc.

The most oxygenated beds were in use in Multan where the ratio was 53pc, Gujranwala 40pc, and in Swabi and Peshawar, the occupancy rate was 37pc.

Around 490 ventilators were in use elsewhere in the country with no Covid-19 patient on vent in Balochistan.

Some 51,625 tests were conducted across the country on Thursday out of which 14,529 were performed in Sindh, 20,903 in Punjab, 8,110 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5,273 in Islamabad Capital Territory, 1,450 in Balochistan, 490 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 870 in Azad Kashmir.

Pfizer vaccine

Meanwhile, after getting assurance that the world’s most credible vaccine Pfizer will be received under the Covax facility next month, Pakistan has started making arrangements to store the vaccine and maintain the cold chain.

Moreover, Covax will also supply AstraZeneca vaccine from non-Indian sources as authorities in Delhi, due to a large number of cases in India, have diverted all the future supplies towards domestic use.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, who is not authorised to speak on record, said that around 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine would be received next month.

“As it is one of the most complex vaccines, in terms of storing it, we have started making arrangements to store it and maintain the cold chain. As vaccine is stored at -75 degree Celsius, we have already procured and installed a couple of dozen Ultra Cold Chain refrigerators in Islamabad and in major cities of provinces,” he said.

He said Pfizer vaccine was also a double-dose vaccine like Sinopharm and AstraZeneca, but its cold chain management was a bit difficult.

“We will not only get 100,000 doses of Pfizer but will also get 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca under Covax facility which has pledged to provide free vaccine for 20 per cent population of Pakistan,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2021

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