Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazl Pechuho has confirmed the detection of the South African and Brazilian variants of the coronavirus in Karachi. Dr Pechuho said on Friday that the variants, which were more lethal than the original Wuhan variant, were detected in samples collected by Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).
In a video message, the health minister said AKUH had collected 13 samples for a genomic study and of those, 10 were found infected with the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus - the presence of which was confirmed in Karachi in an earlier genomic study - two were found infected with the South African variant and the one remaining was infected with the Brazilian variant.
She expressed fear that the two strands had the potential to bring healthcare facilities to the brink of collapse.
Stating that the fatality rate of all three strands was higher than the Wuhan variant, she warned, "This is an emergency as vaccines do not offer protection against these [South African and Brazilian] variants." "Therefore, it is important for everyone to take all necessary precautionary measures and take this seriously," she emphasised.
The minister appealed to citizens not to arrange parties and gatherings at homes, avoid going for Eid shopping and not travel unnecessarily. "If necessary precaution is not taken, the country can face a humanitarian crisis, as has been the case in India," she sounded alarm. Pechuho hinted that the government might impose a lockdown in the coming days
South African & Brazilian variant of COVID-19 found in samples taken by AKU. This is an emergency as these variants are not vaccination responsive either. Therefore it is important for everyone to take all necessary precautions & take this seriously. #SindhHealth pic.twitter.com/F6IRNDTyBQ— Health and Population Welfare Department, Sindh (@SindhHealthDpt) April 30, 2021
Parliamentary secretary for health in the Sindh Assembly Qasim Soomro pointed out that the UK, South African and Brazilian variants were detected in a small pool of just 13 samples. "This is frightening. The detection in a small pool of samples indicates the widescale community spread of these highly contagious variants," he remarked.
Soomro reiterated Pechuho's call for taking strict measures to ensure the implementation of pandemic-related standard operating procedures. "Or else, [those] careless [among the masses] may create a disaster-like situation in the coming days."
Minister for Health & Population Welfare, Dr. @AzraPechuho strongly recommends avoiding crowds & even small social gatherings, as well as travelling unnecessarily. If we dont enforce & follow these protocols we will face a humanitarian crises not unlike that in India #SindhHealth pic.twitter.com/I4ZC2ylqDB— Health and Population Welfare Department, Sindh (@SindhHealthDpt) April 30, 2021
First or not? Earlier media reports had warned of the presence of the South African and Brazilian variants in the metropolis, citing a study conducted by Infection Control Society of Pakistan president Dr Khanani and molecular biologists Dr Muhammad Hanif and Dr Adnan Dinar.
However, a senior official of the Sindh Health Department, who requested anonymity, claimed that it was for the first that the two variants were detected in Sindh in the study conducted by AKUH. "Not a single case had been reported before these," he maintained. The official further told The Express Tribune that all 13 persons whose samples had been collected for the AKUH study had been compelled to isolate themselves.
Read more Sindh's Covid-19 positivity rises to 7%
"As soon as AKUH information about the detection of the two variants with the provincial health department, medical contacted the 13 persons [to ensure that they isolate themselves]," he said, adding that those who came in contact with them would also be tested and isolated. When asked about the health condition of the 13 individuals, the health authorities evaded the question
Meanwhile, data shared by the health department showed that total 18,026 persons, including 2,942 health workers and 15,084 senior citizens, had been vaccinated across Sindh on Thursday. Among the senior citizens, 4,515 were administered the second dose of the vaccine on the day.