Pakistan’s top anti-coronavirus body confirmed on Monday that the country’s first Omicron variant has been detected in an unvaccinated woman through gene-sequencing. The confirmation made by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) came days after a 57-year-old woman in Karachi was suspected of getting infected by the new COVID-19 variant.
“The National Institute of Health, Islamabad has been able to confirm that a recently suspected sample from Karachi is indeed the ‘Omicron variant’ of Sars-CoV2,” the NCOC tweeted.
“This is the first confirmed case but continued surveillance of identified samples is in place to identify trends,” it said.
The top anti-coronavirus body urged people to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves from the serious effects of existing and new variants.
The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) where the suspected Omicron patient was first admitted last week confirmed that the new coronavirus variant has been detected in the patient through gene-sequencing. In a statement, the hospital said the patient was at home and doing well. So far, no other patient at the hospital has been confirmed to have the Omicron variant, it added.
On December 8, the Sindh government claimed that though the genomic study had to be done for confirmation, the way the virus was behaving in a female patient in Karachi seemed it was the Omicron. The matter was widely circulated in the media and reported as the first case of Omicron. In a video message on the same day, Sindh Health Minister Azra Pechuho had said the woman was unvaccinated.
The Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy. It causes “mild” illness and the cases may also be asymptomatic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Last month, Planning Minister Asad Umar warned that the arrival of the Omicron variant was inevitable and only a matter of time. “This [strain] has to spread in the whole world as we saw before that when a variant comes, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop it,” he had said.
Last week, the NCOC announced travel restrictions in the wake of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, adding eight more countries, mostly European, in Category C, banning in-bound passengers. With the latest expansion, the number of countries on Category C increased from seven to 15. The list comprises South Africa, The Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland, Croatia, Ukraine, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland, South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which was detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’. Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has reported 244 new cases of coronavirus and six deaths in the last 24 hours, as the number of confirmed infections has gone up to 1,289,293 while the COVID-19 death toll has reached 28,836. So far, nearly 57 million people have been fully vaccinated while another over 84 million partially vaccinated. Pakistan’s total population is over 220 million.