Omicron threat

Published December 19, 2021

WITH cases of the Omicron variant spreading at “lightning speed” in Europe, according to the French prime minister, the detection of the strain in Pakistan — the second such case here — in a passenger arriving from the UK should result in further tightening of Covid-related SOPs and travelling restrictions. Last week, the WHO warned that the Omicron variant was spreading faster than other coronavirus strains. The WHO chief regretted that Omicron was still considered a mild variant, and said that even if the infection it caused was less severe, the sheer volume of cases due to increased transmissibility could once more overburden health systems. The concern was reflected in the French PM’s warning of a fifth wave of Covid-19. France announced restrictions on New Year celebrations and has banned travellers’ entry from outside the EU including the UK where Omicron cases have increased alarmingly with new cases approaching 100,000. Meanwhile, a study released by Imperial College London stated that the risk of reinfection by Omicron was five times higher than the Delta variant; “no evidence” was found of it causing milder infections than Delta, contradicting earlier reports.

Omicron was first reported from southern Africa and has spread to 89 countries. The variant probably exists in other countries as well but has not been reported yet. Given the situation, Pakistan has good reason to be alarmed. So far, the government has done well to place restrictions on travellers from countries where a large number of cases are being reported. However, these restrictions will only be useful if they are strictly implemented by all tiers of government and the aviation agencies. Reports of airport officials not following Covid-19 SOPs for arriving passengers, including from the UK, should be looked into and the aviation staff should be instructed to take every precaution and screen incoming travellers. So far, Pakistan has remained unscathed from the larger damage wrought by the variant and the government must do all it can to keep things that way.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2021

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