ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday reported its first case of a new and more transmissible variant of Covid-19 with the authorities advising people to resume wearing masks in crowded places and get themselves vaccinated at the earliest.

This sub-variant of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was reported in a man who had arrived in Islamabad from a foreign country and had tested positive at the airport, said an official of the Ministry of National Health Services, wishing not to be quoted. All those whom the person came in contact with have been quarantined.

University of Health Sciences (UHS) Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram said while the new variant was more transmissible, it was less virulent.

According to a statement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) detected this first case of the Omicron sub-variant, BA.2.12.1. “This new variant is causing an increasing number of cases in different countries. The best preventive measure (besides mask-wearing at crowded places) is Covid-19 vaccination. We strongly recommend getting vaccinated, and all those due for booster must get the shots immediately,” stated the institution, which is looking after Covid-related matters since the National Command and Operation Centre was formally shut down.

The health ministry official said the patient tested positive at the airport and later, during genome sequencing, it was confirmed that he was infected with the new variant. “We have decided not to mention the name of the country from where the patient had travelled to Pakistan. However, the new variant has been continuously spreading in different countries. The patient is feeling well and all his contacts have been quarantined at their home,” he said.

“Although the variant is more transmissible, the good thing is that all the vaccines are effective against it. So we request the masses to get themselves vaccinated at the earliest and those who have been vaccinated, should get their booster shots,” he cautioned.

Dr Akram, while talking to Dawn, said so far 18 variants of Omicron have been reported across the world.

“It is an RNA virus, which has the ribonucleic acid as its genetic material, and fortunately all the variations have been found in the spike protean due to which transmissibility of the virus has increased, but it has become less virulent,” he explained.

Dr Akram further said there was no evidence the variant was more virulent. “The disease has become endemic so I believe it should be declared a normal disease. It will be automatically eradicated in four to five years,” he added.

The new Omicron sub-variant is a descendant of the earlier super-contagious “stealth Omicron” and has quickly gained ground in the US, reported Dawn.com.

The BA.2.12.1 was responsible for 29pc of new US Covid-19 infections in the third week of April, according to data reported by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant has been detected in at least 13 other countries. Scientists say it spreads even faster than stealth Omicron.

The development comes as Pakistan is witnessing a decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases, which have dropped significantly during the past few weeks. According to the NIH data, 64 new cases of the virus were reported across the country in the last 24 hours and their positivity rate was 0.49 per cent. As many as 92 patients were receiving critical care.

The virus was first detected in China in December 2019 and then started spreading in other countries. Pakistan had closed its borders and took a number of steps to stop its transmission due to which the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the last week of February 2020. On March 13, the first meeting of the National Security Committee, composed of top civil and military leadership, was held to discuss the crisis which was later declared pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

So far five waves of Covid-19 have been reported in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2022

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