ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad recorded its first confirmed case of the highly contagious coronavirus variants discovered in South Africa and Brazil in one sample each through genome sequencing.
A statement from the Ministry of National Health Services said authorities were actively engaged in tracing the positive cases.
The detection of additional variants adds to concerns that a brutal Covid-19 wave battering Pakistan may keep breaking grim records for weeks to come. On Saturday, the health ministry reported 146 deaths and 4,696 new infections.
Brazil’s P1 coronavirus variant, behind a deadly Covid-19 surge in the Latin American country, is mutating in ways that could make it better able to evade antibodies, according to scientists studying the virus.
Studies have shown the P1 variant to be as much as 2.5 times more contagious than the original coronavirus and more resistant to antibodies.
The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to make up about 1 percent of all the Covid-19 cases across all the people studied. The variant can break through the protection provided by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel found.
The ministry as well as the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) are regularly monitoring Covid-19 variants of concern in the country, the statement said.
The health ministry urged people to follow coronavirus SOPs and get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19.
The development comes a day after health officials in Sindh detected the two coronavirus variants — the first detection of those variants in Pakistan confirmed by officials.
“Yesterday, 13 samples underwent genomic study at the Agha Khan University Hospital, of these 10 were of the UK variant and two were of the [South] Africa and Brazil variants”, Minister for Health and Population Welfare, Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho said on Friday.
The highly contagious variants were discovered at a hospital in Karachi, which has also reported the most deaths in any city, accounting for 3,903 of the country’s 17,957 deaths.
“You can see these strains and the kind of pressure that can be put on our health facilities,” Pechuho said. “If you contract the Brazilian or South African variants, you can become extremely ill.”
Pakistan has seen record deaths in recent days from the coronavirus, and stricter restrictions on movement and gathering in public are planned for the upcoming Eid holidays.
Officials are worried the health care system, already under strain, could reach breaking point if more contagious variants of the virus begin to spread, as has happened in India.
“This should be an alarm bell for our health system,” Pechucho said. “Our hospitals can be overwhelmed, our ventilators and beds will not be enough, and you have already seen this happen in India.”