Caretaker Health Minister Dr Nadeem Jan on Friday said that the country had not yet recorded any cases of the new Covid-19 variant, JN.1 Omicron, but emphasised “we are on red alert”.
The statement from the minister comes a day after the federal government decided to procure 500,000 doses of a Covid vaccine, amid a possible resurgence of the new variant of the virus in various countries.
The procurement of Pfizer vaccines from the US was planned on the recommendations of the Emergency Operation Centre’s (EOC) technical advisory group following the emerging threat of the JN.1 variant.
Around 200,000 doses of vaccine will likely reach the country in the coming week, while the remaining will be available in the next phase.
The JN.1 variant is also called a sub-variant of the Omicron lineage. It is more transmissible than other circulating variants, and the proportion of cases caused by this particular virus has been rising.
Even though health experts have declared it less severe than the other strains, they are of the view that it may lead to complications for the high-risk population, especially elderly people with low immunity.
Speaking in the Senate today, the health minister said that Pakistan was closely monitoring the new variant and the government was on “red alert”.
He mentioned the government’s efforts to implement lab testing systems across different districts for extensive testing among the population.
The minister reported that the government had issued three advisories on the matter, stating: “We will urge the Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ask TV channels to run it.”
He also mentioned that the disease was akin to influenza.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health Sciences (NIH) in Islamabad has also issued an advisory to provinces about the mutating strain of the virus.
As per the advisory, the new variant has been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a Variant of Interest (VOI) with genetic changes predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, and diagnostic or therapeutic escape.
“The JN.1 is classified as VOI and fundamentally an offshoot of BA.2.86 sub-variant Omicron variant Covid-19 virus, first reported in August 2023 by US-CDC,” reads the NIH advisory.
“This rapid growth is observed across the three WHO regions with consistent sharing of SARS-CoV-2 sequences, i.e. the region of the Americas, the Western Pacific and the European regions, with the largest increase seen in Western Pacific from 1.1 per cent in epidemiological week 44 to 65.6pc in epidemiological week 48.”
As per the NIH officials, the advisory has been issued to alert and facilitate the health authorities and other stakeholders for timely preventive and control measures and ensure preparedness to deal with increased patient influx during the next few weeks.
Screening for inbound passengers
Separately, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has also decided to resume the screening of inbound passengers.
According to the NCOC, 2pc of inbound passengers will be screened at all entry points.
“Keeping in view the surge in the Covid-19 cases in some countries, NCOC is vigilantly observing the situation,” said the authority, adding that strict vigilance will be implemented at all points of entry (PoEs).