Pakistan reported 708 new coronavirus cases on Monday for the previous 24 hours, making it the first time since October 30, 2021 that daily infections have exceeded 700.
The country had recorded 733 infections on that date.
According to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the positivity rate has risen to 1.55 per cent.
The countrywide breakdown of cases and deaths for the last 24 hours:
- Sindh: 415 cases
- Punjab: 217 cases, 1 death
- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 39 cases, 1 death
- Islamabad: 35 cases
- Azad Jammu and Kashmir: 2 cases
No new infections were reported in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The rise in cases from the previous day's 594 came on the heels of Planning Minister Asad Umar warning that there was clear evidence of another Covid-19 wave as cases of the new variant, Omicron, increased — particularly in Karachi.
The minister said the recent surge in cases seemed to be due to the most transmissible variant of Covid-19, Omicron.
“Genome sequencing is showing a rising proportion of Omicron cases, particularly in Karachi. Remember, wearing a mask is your best protection,” he tweeted on Sunday.
The federal minister's emphasis on Karachi came in the wake of a micro-smart lockdown imposed on Friday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Block 7, after 12 members of a family tested positive for the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, medical professionals have also raised concerns about the variant. “Omicron variant of coronavirus is going to cause a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in our country including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in coming days as this infection is unlikely to be prevented by the two doses of vaccine,” Prof Khalid Mahmood, a physician at Lady Reading Hospital, told Dawn.
Prof Ziaul Haq, the vice-chancellor of Khyber Medical University, said that a booster dose was highly recommended for fully immunised people in view of the new variant.
"Projections and international trends are alarming and we may have a very heavy fifth wave on our way with predominant Omicron variant,” he said. The doubling time of Omicron is two to three days compared to two-week of Delta and this may lead to a tsunami of cases.
Prof Zia said that the Omicron variant had a high number of asymptomatic cases, therefore, the unknown positive cases in Pakistan may already be very high than the reported ones.
Meanwhile, booster shots are going to start today for people aged over 30 years who have been fully vaccinated at least six months ago. On Dec 20, the NCOC had allowed booster shots for people aged over 30 years because of Omicron's spread to over 100 countries, including Pakistan.
Talking to Dawn, Ministry of National Health Services Director General Dr Rana Safdar said booster doses of choice would be given to citizens.
“It means that mix and match has been allowed or booster of the same company which was administered earlier can be given as per choice of the people,” he had said.
NCOC reviews situation
The NCOC also reviewed the current situation of the disease in the country today and determined that the fifth wave was being driven by the Omicron variant and was "spreading at a great pace".
"The forum agreed upon taking strict measures regarding obligatory vaccination regime," said a press release issued from the body.
The forum also took note of the rise in Karachi's positivity in the last three days from two per cent to 6pc.
The NCOC urged people to get themselves vaccinated and follow Covid-19 standard operating procedures to curb the spread of the fifth wave.
Additionally, district wise vaccination targets were set and the forum was informed that "all-out efforts" were being made by engaging provinces to ensure they achieve their targets as soon as possible.
In November, 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.
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 National Command and Operating Centre 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.