WITH the confirmation of the first case of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 in Pakistan and the government’s advice to take precautionary measures, the health authorities should immediately launch another nationwide vaccination campaign and revive the recently abolished airport Covid-19 protocols. The National Institute of Health, which, after the NCOC was wound up, is heading national anti-Covid efforts, first announced the detection of the BA2 variant on May 8 in a passenger who had flown in from abroad last month and, three days later, was tested for Covid-19. Subsequently, it was confirmed that he was infected with the new variant of the infection. Few details were given about the vaccination status of the infected traveller, but the circumstances clearly point to some glaring gaps in the monitoring of incoming passengers at our airports. Even at the height of the pandemic, it was observed that not all arriving passengers would be administered rapid antigen tests at the airport. Given the global situation, plus the near normalisation of travel and everyday activities in this country, one would expect airport authorities to ensure rapid antigen testing for thousands of incoming travellers.
Apart from tightening airport protocols, the government should also launch another campaign for initial vaccinations and a second round of booster doses. For its part, the WHO has advised against a strategy of relying on repeated booster doses, stating it to be “not viable” and calling for the development of newer vaccines that promise better protection against the newer strains of the virus. But experts in many countries, including the US, are encouraging the public to receive a second or third booster dose, till such time a new alternative is available for enhanced protection against the sneaky and increasingly transmissible variants of the coronavirus. Pakistan too can rely on vaccines and booster shots to expand vaccination coverage. Even if they offer limited protection, it is better than having no immunity at all against the virus. Meanwhile, the authorities should be prepared to call for masking and social distancing if matters worsen.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022