Pakistan may experience the fifth wave of Covid-19 in the mid of February 2022 with daily detection of around 3,000-4,000 cases per day as community transmission of Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 or Coronavirus has begun in the major cities of the country.
“Transmission of Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 has started in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and we fear a rise in COVID-19 cases all over the country in the coming two weeks,” an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) said.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, also confirmed that so far 75 cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in Pakistan, including 33 in Karachi where the first case was reported on December 13, while 17 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported from Islamabad and 13 in Lahore.
The NHS official further claimed that most of the Omicron variant cases were ‘asymptomatic’, which indicates that it could be spreading silently in major cities where only a few labs had the capacity to pick the suspected cases and then report it to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, and the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) for confirmation through Whole Genome Sequencing.
“There are seven or eight labs in entire Pakistan with the capacity to detect the mutations in the virus that indicate that it is the Omicron variant. Once these labs have the suspected cases, they refer it to NIH or AKUH Karachi for whole genome sequencing for confirmation. Probably, that’s why we are not seeing a large number of cases of this variant of concern but it is rapidly replacing the Delta variant in Pakistan”, the official warned.
To a query, the NHS official said the use of inactivated virus vaccines, especially Sinopharm and Sinovac as well as a ‘pre-existing non-specific immunity’, could prevent Pakistani population from severe disease from the Omicron variant and added that with almost 50% Pakistani population vaccinated, this variant could also provide the required herd immunity in a shorter span of time.
Officials at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Karachi and the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) said they have detected several suspected Omicron variant cases and were now trying to get them confirmed through whole genome sequencing. “We would be able to confirm Omicron variant cases by Thursday,” an official of the DUHS said.
But the officials at the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), University of Karachi, said they were continuously monitoring the COVID-19 positive cases and so far they had not seen any suspected case of the Omicron variant in Sindh.
“We have urged the Sindh health department to send us the samples of suspected cases as we have the capability to perform whole genome sequencing within two days. So far we have only seen Delta and Kappa variants in Sindh,” Director ICCBS Prof Dr Iqbal Chaudhry said.
The molecular genetics experts said no commercial lab in Karachi or anywhere in the country was detecting the Omicron variant although its kit was now available in the country.
The “kit for the detection of Omicron variant is available in market like the kit for detection of Delta variant. Only the research labs at major varsities are doing the detection through the whole genome sequencing”, Dr. Muhammad Zohaib, a molecular scientist at the Children’s Hospital Karachi, said.