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Pakistan closely monitoring new coronavirus variant, says health ministry

ISLAMABAD: The health ministry confirmed the presence of a new coronavirus variant in Pakistan and said that the authorities were closely monitoring the cases by using a modern surveillance system.

According to the details, the health ministry has confirmed the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in Pakistan which was detected in the United Kingdom for the first time.

In a declaration, the ministry said that the new SARS-CoV-2 variant is less deadly, however, it is fast-spreading.

It stated that the health authorities were using a modern surveillance system to hold close monitoring of the developments of the new variant of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the nationals have been asked to strictly follow the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) against COVID-19. The health authorities also instructed citizens to ensure being vaccinated by the prescribed time.

Earlier in January 2021, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had confirmed the two cases of the highly contagious coronavirus variant that first emerged in the UK have been detected in Pakistan. The National Institute of Health (NIH) had examined several samples taken from the UK return travellers suspected to be carrying the new Covid-19 variant, out of which two matched with the variant, named B117.

The variant was first detected in Britain in December last year, the NCOC said, adding it has also been found in 31 other countries. Pakistani citizens returning from the UK need to take a mandatory PCR test for the new strain of the deadly virus, said the ministry.

Earlier, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan announced that Pakistan will receive 2.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine close to March 2.

PM’s aide said that the frontline health care workers, after sending their CNIC numbers to 1166, could get themselves vaccinated from any adult vaccination centre (AVC).

The government decided to start vaccination of people over 65 years of age in the first week of next month. Health workers will also receive the vaccine.

Pakistan will receive this vaccine through the COVAX facility which is a global alliance formed to ensure equitable access to vaccines for lower-income countries.

COVAX is providing Pakistan with a total of 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. This is the second vaccine to receive emergency use authorisation by the World Health Organisation. It has proven to be 70% effective in clinical trials, he said.

Around 65 countries are vaccinating their populations against COVID-19. Of them, 34 are using the AstraZeneca shot, Dr Sultan said. He urged people to get themselves registered at the earliest.

Dr Sultan further added that while the process of vaccination could not be started in 110 countries, Pakistan was among those 65 countries where vaccination has begun.

“We have decided to vaccinate frontline HCWs because they are the most vulnerable to the virus as they cannot maintain social distancing due to nature of their job and 130 of them have already sacrificed their lives. So far over 52,000 HCWs have been vaccinated. We were getting complaints that HCWs had to wait at AVCs so it has been decided that they can get themselves vaccinated from any AVC and there will be no delays,” he added.

The minister further added that “Age group of over 65 years is being given priority because the majority of deaths, out of 12,488 till date, have been reported in the same age group. Registration has been started from February 15 and people should get their parents registered for vaccination. They will be vaccinated with Oxford AstraZeneca, which is being administrated in 34 countries, including the United Kingdom. We will get 17m doses by June.”

Regarding Chinese company, Sinopharm’s vaccine Faisal said that vaccine is being given to the frontline HCWs of up to 60 years of age. “Vaccine is being used for people of up to 60 years of age, but it does not mean that the vaccine is harmful to over 60-year-old people. Our experts decided not to use it as in the clinical trial there were limited number of over 60-year-old volunteers,” he added.

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