Pakistan reported its first "suspected" case of the new coronavirus variant Omicron in a woman in Karachi on Wednesday, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho said, adding that a genomic study was being carried out for confirmation.
In a video message, she said that the genomic study of the coronavirus patient's sample had not been conducted but "the way the virus is behaving, it seems like it is Omicron."
She further said the patient was 57 years old.
"Omicron is very transmissible but deaths or serious [conditions] have not been seen in recent reports coming from South Africa (where the variant was first detected). There is no cause for concern. We are conducting a genomic study which will take one or two weeks."
It would be confirmed whether the woman was infected with the Omicron variant once the study was completed, she added.
"The virus also spreads because people are not vaccinated. This woman was not vaccinated either. I am appealing to you to get the second dose and if you are fully vaccinated, get the booster dose. It can protect you," she stressed.
The minister's statement came hours after her spokesperson Mehar Khursheed confirmed the detection of the first Omicron case in a woman from Karachi. She said the infected woman was unvaccinated and had been admitted for treatment at Aga Khan University Hospital.
According to a letter written by the district health officer of Karachi's East district to the provincial director general of health, the Regional Disease Surveillance and Response Unit in the metropolis "reported the first case of new Covid-19 'Omicron' variant on December 8, 2021, at 7pm".
The letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that the woman, who was 65 years of age, was unvaccinated and did not have a travel history. She was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday and was isolating at home.
The rapid response team was "taken on board immediately" for tracing, testing, quarantining, vaccination and other preventive measures to control the infection's spread as per the guidelines of the National Command and Operation Centre, the letter stated.
The district's health team also "immediately" contacted the woman's family to take a detailed history and trace her contacts.
The deputy commissioner of the district was also requested to take the necessary action — micro smart lockdown — according to the letter.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad said the sample of the coronavirus patient was "not yet confirmed to be Omicron via whole-genome sequencing" which would be performed after the NIH received the sample.
A statement issued by the Aga Khan University Hospital later in the day stated that the hospital had received the "first patient suspected of [having] the Covid-19 Omicron variant".
"We are awaiting the results of the final (genome sequencing) confirmatory test, which will take a few days. We have reported the suspected patient to the health department for their action. The patient did well and has been discharged," the hospital's spokesperson Anam Haleem said in the statement.
He added that the hospital's prevention and management protocols was Covid-19 are adequate for the treatment of the coronavirus.
Last month, Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had sounded the alarm, saying that the arrival of the Omicron variant was inevitable and a matter of time.
"This [strain] has to spread in the whole world as we saw before that when a variant comes, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop it," Umar had said, adding that vaccination was the most logical solution to curb the threat.
On November 30, the Sindh government issued new guidelines — applicable from December 1-15 — to curb Covid-19's transmission in wake of the threat posed by the new variant.
Covid-19 curbs in Sindh:
- Indoor, outdoor gatherings allowed for vaccinated individuals. For Karachi, Sukkur and Sanghar the limit is 500 people for indoor events and 1,000 for outdoor. For the rest of the province it is 300 people for indoor and 1,000 for outdoor.
- Indoor dining allowed for vaccinated people till 11:59pm. 70pc occupancy for Karachi, Sukkur, and Sanghar and 50pc for the rest of the province.
- Outdoor dining is allowed for fully vaccinated citizens till 11:59pm.
- Markets and businesses can function till 10pm while essential services can operate 24/7.
- Shrines, indoor gyms and cinemas are open for fully vaccinated individuals.
- 100pc attendance at offices with routine timings.
- Amusement parks and swimming pools will operate at 70pc occupancy in Karachi, Sukkur and Sanghar and 50pc for the rest of the province.
The Sindh chief secretary had also directed the district administration to exhibit its full commitment to enforcing non-pharmaceutical interventions and take strict action against violators.
The Sindh health department had also earlier decided to inoculate all residents with a booster shot of Pfizer keeping in view the increased risk of transmission and re-infection posed by the Omicron variant.
Pakistan had placed a complete ban on Nov 27 on travel from six south African countries — South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia — and Hong Kong in the wake of the variant's discovery.
This travel ban was later extended to nine more countries — Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland and Zimbabwe.
Additionally, the NCOC placed 13 countries comprising United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, France, Austria, Afghanistan and Turkey in category B.
All passengers from these countries need to be fully vaccinated, while everyone above the age of six must possess a negative PCR test report issued not more than 48 hours before boarding.
Omicron has been classified by the World Health Organisation as a "highly transmissible" variant — the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.