Tuesday Dec 29, 2020
KARACHI: Pakistan's first three cases of the new coronavirus strain have been detected in the port city of Karachi.
The new strain, referred to by some experts as the B.1.17 lineage, is not the first variant of COVID-19 pandemic, but it is said to be up to 70% more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the UK.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Sindh Health Department said the new COVID-19 variant has been identified in samples taken from three passengers who recently returned from Britain.
The health department said it took samples of 12 UK returnees for genotyping out of which six tested positive for the coronavirus. "Three showed the new variant for the COVID-19 in the first phase of testing."
The press statement said the genotyping shows it to be a 95% match of the new strain initially detected in the UK. The authorities have begun tracing contacts of the patients and placing them under isolation.
"These samples will go through a second round of genotyping," Sindh Health Department spokesperson Meeran Yousuf told Geo.tv, adding that the cases were identified in Karachi.
Later, responding to a question put forth by a concerned citizen on Twitter asking how it was that patients were found positive after arriving in Pakistan, Meeran said that the virus takes 3-14 days to incubate.
"So at times people are exposed after their test or during travel. A lot of times if the viral load is low PCR doesn't pick it up so it can show negative in the PCR test," she explained.
The provincial health department has informed Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan of the development.
Pakistan is already grappling to contain the second wave of novel coronavirus. Over 70,000 infections have been reported across the country in the last 28 days alone, raising the national tally to 475,085.
Since the pandemic hit the country, the virus has claimed 9,992 lives - more than 1,800 have been reported since the start of this month.
Later in the day, the National Command and Operations Centre, in a statement said that there was "no evidence" so far to suggest that the infection caused by this variant is more severe.
The statement, highlighting the steps that NCOC had taken in this regard, said that travel from the UK to Pakistan had been limited and restricted.
The statement said that the viruses were being evaluated in selected laboratories for the presence of the variant.
"Based on this proactive effort, there are five samples — two at the National Institute of Health and three at the Aga Khan University hospital in Karachi — which may have the variant strain, based on preliminary analysis," it added.
These results have to be confirmed through further analysis — whole genome sequencing — which will take a few more days to complete, the statement said.
The NCOC and Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination are following this closely, it said.