Pakistan's first Omicron case confirmed through gene-sequencing

Published December 13, 2021
People sit next to a sign for the coronavirus disease test, outside the School of Nursing in Karachi, on December 9. — Reuters/File
People sit next to a sign for the coronavirus disease test, outside the School of Nursing in Karachi, on December 9. — Reuters/File

The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) confirmed on Monday that the new coronavirus variant Omicron has been detected in a patient through gene-sequencing.

In a statement, the hospital said the patient was at home and doing well. So far, no other patients at the hospital have been confirmed to have the Omicron variant, it added.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) also confirmed that the Omicron variant has been detected. "The National Institute of Health, Islamabad has been able to confirm that a recently suspected sample from Karachi is indeed the ‘Omicron variant’ of Sars-CoV2," it said in a tweet.

"This is the first confirmed case but continued surveillance of identified samples is in place to identify trends," the NCOC added.

On Dec 8, the Sindh government had claimed that though genomic study had to be done for confirmation, the way the virus was behaving in a female patient in Karachi seemed it was the Omicron. The matter was widely circulated in the media and reported as the first case of Omicron.

In a video message on the same day, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho had said the 57-year-old woman was unvaccinated.

However, on Dec 9, the NIH issued a clarification stating that the sample was yet to be confirmed as Omicron through whole-genome sequencing, adding it would be obtained from the Sindh government.

It later said that results of samples of three suspected cases of Omicron variant of Covid-19 would be received on Monday (today).

'Spreads faster, weakens jabs'

A day earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the Omicron coronavirus variant is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy but causes less severe symptoms according to early data.

The WHO said Omicron had spread to 63 countries as of December 9. Faster transmission was noted in South Africa, where Delta is less prevalent, and in Britain, where Delta is the dominant strain.

But it stressed that a lack of data meant it could not say if Omicron's rate of transmission was because it was less prone to immune responses, higher transmissibility or a combination of both.

Early evidence suggests Omicron causes "a reduction in vaccine efficacy against infection and transmission", the WHO said in a technical brief.

Omicron infections have so far caused "mild" illness or asymptomatic cases, but the WHO said the data was insufficient to establish the variant's clinical severity.

'Inevitable' arrival

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.

Pakistan had also placed a complete ban on November 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.

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