‘No lockdown for now,’ declares NCOC Chief

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  • Says no plans of lockdown
  • Presses on Vaccination
  • Urges masses to follow protocol
  • Statement comes as Pakistan records positivity ratio over 2% for 1st time in over two months

By Uzma Zafar

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported more than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus during the past 24 hours after a period of nearly three months, with about 80 percent of those believed to be highly infectious Omicron variant, but a minister said the government won’t introduce new restrictions at least “for now”.

A National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) update showed the nation confirmed 1,085 new cases, increasing the toll to 1,299,848, including 1,257,847 recoveries.

Earlier, the country had reported 1,086 cases on October 14 after which the infection rate started dropping.

The number of active cases has also surged to 13,046 including 636 with critical conditions.

According to the data, the disease killed five people on Wednesday, increasing the death toll to 28,955.

Sindh is the most affected province of the country in terms of the number of cases with 484,226 infections followed by Punjab which has reported 446,300 cases.

At this point in time, there is no plan of [imposing] quarantine. We are monitoring [infections] numbers closely as we shared today what has happened in the rest of the world and what is starting to happen in Pakistan,” Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, told the media.

The government instead was focused right on scaling up the pace of vaccinations and enforcing the previously introduced restrictions on those who refuse the jabs, he said.

First detected in November, the Omicron variant has now been reported in 57 countries and continues to spread rapidly in South Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

Earlier this month, the government announced stepping up its vaccination efforts and is expanding the criteria for vaccine booster shots, amid fears of the Omicron variant.

“There are clear indications that a new wave has started, positivity ratio that was around 0.6 percent, 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent in past several weeks, now in a very short span of time there is a sharp increase in that,” Umar told a press conference on Wednesday.

He observed the new highly contagious strain of the virus was spreading mostly in big cities.

“If we will see those average figures of past one week, 60 percent infections reported were from Karachi and Lahore, so I urge people living in metropolises to get vaccinated.”

Warning of the possibility that the public health system may come under severe stress, Minister of State for National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan said the provinces had been advised to make arrangements such as ensuring the availability of ample oxygen to deal with any such situation.

Sultan had told a local publication that a week ago the positivity rate was less than 1 percent but it had doubled over the course of a few days.

“We will be in a better position to make predictions about the pace of increase in cases next week, as the incubation period of the virus is around one week, but at the moment it seems like cases will increase,” the publication reported, citing the minister.

In his opinion, hospitalisation needs would increase and this was why provinces had been advised to make arrangements.

“There is clear evidence now of a beginning of another Covid wave which has been expected for the last few weeks,” Umar said last week.

Genome sequencing had detected a growing number of cases of the Omicron variant, particularly in the largest city of Karachi, he said.

OMICRON ‘INEVITABLE’ IN PAKISTAN

In November, Umar warned the Omicron variant will “inevitably” find its way to Pakistan, adding the nation had “only a few weeks” to contain the latest threat.

“The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older,” he said.

“It is my appeal to people, particularly those who’ve gotten one dose to get the second dose because this is one effective thing we have to protect ourselves from the danger of this variant,” the minister added.

The alert followed a WHO communiqué warning its 194 member states the variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid-19 surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas.

The UN agency urged them to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”