ISLAMABAD: As new variants of coronavirus spread at a rapid pace in parts of the globe, including India, China, and the United States, health authorities in Pakistan seem to be ill-prepared to stop the arrival of the virus in the country.

Even though the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) claimed that the situation was being closely monitored, there have been no measures at airports, such as rapid testing and screening of inbound travellers, to detect positive cases of Covid-19.

NCOC member Dr Shahzad Ali Khan said the Centre was regularly holding its meetings. He added it was yet to be seen how new variants would behave in Pakistan since “viruses behave differently in different environments”.

“We have been closely observing the situation. It is a fact that a sudden spread [of Covid-19] has been observed in China because there were strict restrictions in place and an abrupt removal of these curbs allowed the virus to spread,” he said.

Dr Khan claimed that the immunity level of the citizens of Pakistan was better due to vaccination.

Experts urge NCOC to issue updated guidelines amid lack of screening at airports

“New variants may disturb those who are not inoculated, so I would urge people to get vaccinated and get booster shots. Although NCOC has not issued any guidelines, I would advise people that they should avoid social gatherings for some days,” he said.

Time for updated SOPs

On the other hand, independent experts believe that NCOC should issue fresh guidelines and give a “position statement”. Since the world has become a global village, the virus can enter the country anytime, they said, adding that people would prefer to travel following the new guidelines.

Microbiologist Prof Javaid Usman said that in China virus started spreading at a fast pace after restrictions were suddenly lifted. He added that currently, the atmosphere due to a lack of rainfall has become polluted, with dust acting as one of the major pollutants.

“Such atmosphere contains Influenza, swine flu (H1N1), non-Covid-19 coronaviruses, para-influenza viruses, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Due to the presence of all these other germs, it becomes difficult to tell if a person is suffering from Covid-19 or some other virus,” he said.

Dr Usman urged people to wear masks and take precautionary measures.

Prof Dr Javed Akram, a renowned general physician, told Dawn said that over the months, the transmissibility of the virus has increased, but so far there was no evidence if vaccines were effective against Covid-19 or not.

“I suggest that NCOC should regularly issue guidelines because it keeps masses and health authorities vigilant,” he said, adding that international organisations watch these steps very closely and people start travelling in the light of advisories.

While replying to a question, Dr Akram said that the immunity level of Pakistanis was high due to the Expanded Program of Immunisation (EPI). “Moreover, we have more experience with viruses because of hygiene and other issues. Although it is not good for our health, but in the case of Covid-19 it is good,” he said.

According to a document from the National Institute of Health, 15 new Covid-19 cases were reported across the country on Sunday. The case positivity ratio was 0.4 per cent and 16 patients were in critical condition.

At least 3,749 Covid tests were conducted: around 406 tests were conducted in Islamabad, 107 in Faisalabad, 920 in Lahore, and 321 in Peshawar.

The coronavirus strain spreading in China is a sub-variant of the highly infectious Omicron variant: BF.7 or BA.5.2.1.7, CBS News reported.

Following widespread protests, the country of 1.4 billion people this month began dismantling its “zero-Covid” regime of lockdowns and testing that had largely kept the virus away for three years — at great economic and psychological costs.

The abrupt change of policy caught the country’s fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs, and authorities racing to build special clinics.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2022

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