A health official holds a swab after taking a sample at the drive-through screening and testing facility in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

75 cases of Omicron variant confirmed in Pakistan

NIH says 12 of them are associated with international travel.

Our Correspondent December 28, 2021

The National Institute of Health (NIH) on Tuesday confirmed 75 cases of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 across the country, a week after the first case was reported in Karachi.

"Since [the] WHO [World Health Organisation] designated Omicron as a Variant of Concern on November 26, 2021, the Ministry of NHSRC [National Health Systems Resource Centre], NCOC, NIH [National Institute of Health] and the provincial health departments have remained vigilant to detect the variant in Pakistan," read an official statement.

"The first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was reported on December 13 in Karachi. As of December 27, 2021, a total of 75 Omicron cases have been confirmed – 33 in Karachi, 17 in Islamabad and 13 in Lahore," it added.

The NIH further said 12 of these cases were associated with international travel.

Read: Pakistan's total Covid-19 vaccinations exceed 150m

The relevant authorities have isolated the patients and initiated contact tracing in order to control the spread of the variant.

It added that vaccination and following standard operating procedures (SOPs) continued to be our best defence against Covid-19 despite the mutations being reported.

"All government approved Covid-19 vaccines available in Pakistan remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation. The government urges everyone to get both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine as well as the booster dose as per the eligibility criteria and process," the statement read.

Last week, Islamabad had detected its first case of Omicron in a 47-year-old male, according to the NIH. The patient reportedly only had minor symptoms, with contact tracing carried out to detect more cases.

On December 13, the Agha Khan University Hospital (AKUH) confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in an unvaccinated Covid-19 patient. In a statement, the hospital said the patient was isolated at home and doing well.

Last month, the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) had warned that the Omicron variant was wreaking havoc worldwide, particularly Europe, and eventually would also affect Pakistan.

Addressing a joint press conference with Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, NCOC chief Asad Umar had said the variant had spread across the world and it would be impossible to stop it from entering Pakistan because the world was so inter-connected.

Umar, also the planning minister, had urged the people to complete their vaccination doses in the wake of the “very dangerous” variant. “The logical solution to thwart the new variant is full vaccination,” he had added.

For travelling purposes, the authorities had divided countries in A, B, and C categories.

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On November 27, Pakistan had banned travel from six south African countries — South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia — and Hong Kong after the variant surfaced, placing them in Category C.

It later added nine more countries to the list -- Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland and Zimbabwe.

The NCOC, which serves as the nerve centre of the government’s unified effort against the global pandemic, said only ‘essential’ travel from those countries would be possible, subject to an exemption certificate from a special committee.

It added that vaccination would be mandatory for all travellers coming to Pakistan. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test would be mandatory for the Pakistanis and foreigners above the age of six years. The PCR test must be taken 48 hours before boarding.

For Category B, which included Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Russia, the US, the UK, Thailand, France, Austria, Afghanistan and Turkey, all inbound passengers needed to be fully vaccinated.

Furthermore, passengers from Category B countries needed to have a negative (PCR) test report (maximum 48 hours prior to departure). The NCOC stated that health authorities would also conduct random Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) testing of passengers coming from these countries.

For Category A countries, all inbound passengers required to be fully vaccinated with the same PCR requirement as category B countries.

Authorities would also screen transit flights through RAT at airports on flights arriving via KSA, UAE and Qatar to “guard against the entry of Omicron variant”.


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