• Highest number of Covid cases reported since Oct 14
• Provinces advised to prepare for strain on health resources
• Hong Kong places two-week ban on flights from Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: With the national positivity rate climbing to 1.8 per cent, Pakistan on Wednesday reported the highest number of Covid-19 cases since Oct 14.

Warning of the possibility that the public health system may come under considerable stress, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said that provinces had been advised to make arrangements such as ensuring the availability of ample oxygen to deal with any such situation.

Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar also warned about the rise in the number of Omicron cases and urged the public to take precautions.

Giving the example of the US, UK and South Africa, where Omicron cases had resulted in a significant increase in hospitalisation rates, he said that people should get vaccinated to reduce the possible impact of Omicron.

According to data released by the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), as many as 898 persons were infected over the past 24 hours — the highest number since Oct 14 when 1,086 persons were infected with the virus in a single day — while 652 patients were in critical care.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Sultan said that a week ago the positivity rate was less than 1pc but it had doubled over the course of a few days.

“We will be in a better position to make predictions about the pace of increase in cases next week, as the incubation period of the virus is around one week, but at the moment it seems like cases will increase,” he said.

In his opinion, hospitalisation needs would increase and this was why provinces had been advised to make arrangements.

“They have been advised to arrange oxygen and ensure availability of other hospital supplies to deal with any untoward situation,” he said.

When asked if the rainy weather would have any effect on the transmission of the virus — some believe that in humid conditions the virus is unable to survive in the air for a long time — Dr Sultan said that Covid-19 had proven all theories wrong.

Dr Sultan said their data indicated that Omicron was only causing mild symptoms in vaccinated people, especially the elderly. He also pointed out that women had benefitted more from vaccine as compared to men and encouraged every woman to get vaccinated.

However, he warned that: “We cannot say that Omicron symptoms will be mild for everyone and all such speculation is premature.”

Addressing a news conference on Wednesday, Asad Umar said that 60pc of Omicron cases were being reported from Karachi and Lahore, while the country’s financial hub had witnessed a 940pc increase in cases in just two weeks, while Punjab had reported a 185pc increase in cases over just 10 days.

Meanwhile, the Asian financial hub of Hong Kong has banned flights from eight nations, including Pakistan, as part of strict new curbs to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant among their population, AFP reported on Wednesday.

Britain, the United States, France and Australia have all announced record case numbers in recent days, while China has imposed lockdowns in two cities and rolled out mass testing for millions as it doubles down on its “zero-Covid” policy ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

According to the latest restrictions, flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will be banned for the next two weeks.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2022

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