Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday ordered the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to be immediately restored after Pakistan reported the first case of Omicron sub-variant BA.2.12.1.
The NCOC was formed in March 2020 by the PTI government to oversee its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The forum provided the overall direction to provincial authorities on how to contain outbreaks and its data-driven approach kept the nation updated on daily cases, deaths, recoveries, and number of vaccinations. It was dissolved by the PTI last month after Covid cases in the country subsided.
Read more: Inside the NCOC — An eyewitness account
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's House, the premier took notice of the new variant of Omicron and its growing cases. "He has also sought a report from the National Institute of Health (NIH) over the current Covid-19 situation," it said.
The development comes a day after the NIH — which has been looking after Covid-related matters since the NCOC was formally shut down last month — revealed that the first case of the Omicron sub-variant, BA.2.12 had been detected in the country.
A health ministry official told Dawn that 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.
The new Omicron sub-variant is a descendant of the earlier super-contagious “stealth Omicron” and has quickly gained ground in the US.
BA.2.12.1 was responsible for 29 per cent of new US Covid-19 infections in April's third week, according to data reported by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. And it caused 58pc of reported infections in the New York region.
The variant has been detected in at least 13 other countries, but the US has the highest levels of it so far. 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.
Pakistan's Covid response lauded
It is pertinent to mention here that the NCOC and Pakistan's Covid-19 pandemic response has been lauded since the day the virus was first reported in the country.
Earlier in March, a report prepared by the United Nations Development Programme placed Pakistan among the countries that have done fairly well in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. It noted that on March 23, 2022, the cost of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population in Pakistan was 13.95pc of the country’s current health expenditure.
On March 23, the cost of vaccinating 40pc of the population in India was 8.65pc of the country’s current health expenditure and the Covid-19 risk index was 4.6, which was classified as medium.
In Pakistan, cured and/or expected vaccine supply in total doses as percentage of the population was 112.25pc. Vaccine doses received as a percentage of the population was 107.15pc.
In 2020, the World Health Organisation had also said that Pakistan was among countries from whom the international community should learn how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat Covid-19. “Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children for polio have been utilised for surveillance, contact tracing and care."
“There are many other examples, including Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain and Vietnam. Many of these countries have done well because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases. That’s why it’s vital that we all learn lessons this pandemic is teaching us,” he had added.