Global surge: Pakistan tightens screening for new COVID-19 variant at airports

Border Health Services advises random sampling of 2% of international passengers landing in Pakistan

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NIH Team Is Facilitating COVID-19 Testing For Overseas Pakistanis At Islamabad International Airport. Photo— NIH website
NIH Team Is Facilitating COVID-19 Testing For Overseas Pakistanis At Islamabad International Airport. Photo— NIH website
  • Advisory issued in light of recent spike in COVID-19 cases globally. 
  • BHS advises random sampling of 2% international travellers.
  • No cases of BF.7 variant detected in Pakistan, confirms NIH.

LAHORE: Border Health Services (BHS) Thursday directed airport authorities to tighten COVID-19 screening for all international travellers landing in Pakistan following a recent global resurgence in virus cases, especially in China and India.

The advisory also binds the Airport Health Services to screen — using Antigen Rapid Test— every unwell traveller at the airports.

According to the notification, all the focal persons of the BHS have been advised to maintain a heightened level of awareness for the rapid identification, detection, and isolation of any potential cases to prevent further transmission as a part of effective control and prevention measures.

All the in-charges have been advised to strictly implement Infection Prevention Control (IPC) protocols at the points of entry, including disinfection and fumigation of passenger arrival areas and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPES) by the healthcare workers for interruption of transmission.

A random sampling of all inbound passengers on international flights (2%) has been advised as part of the national response against COVID-19 at the points of entry.

The border health authority has also advised all the airlines to facilitate its staff in carrying out the testing smoothly, as some passengers often resist being tested.

BF.7 Variant 

Following China, India reported the detection of several cases of BF.7, a sub-variant of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is driving the huge COVID surge in China.

The BF.7 sub-variant has already been detected in several other countries, including Germany, Belgium, France, Denmark, the US, and the UK.

Believed to be a highly transmissible variant with a shorter incubation period, the BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA, experts at NIH said. They said it also has a higher capacity to cause re-infection and infect vaccinated individuals.

“As per the latest studies, the BF.7 variant has several times higher neutralization resistance than the original Wuhan virus. This means the antibodies from the vaccination are not effective enough against the virus”, an expert at the NIH told The News.

NO BF.7 cases detected yet in Pakistan 

On December 26, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) denied the detection of Omicron sub-variant BF.7 in Pakistan and said there is no threat of any new variant of COVID-19.

“An unverified report is circulating in the media regarding the threat of a new COVID-19 variant. The National Command and Operations Center affirms that there is currently no such threat. The situation is being closely monitored," the National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad said in a statement on Twitter.