It was only a matter of time when news would arrive that the Omicron variant has entered Pakistan. The first “suspected” case has been reported in a 57-year-old unvaccinated woman in Karachi. While the genomic study will take some time, experts are fairly certain by the way it is behaving that this is indeed the new Omicron variant. But what does the emergence of the Omicron variant mean for Pakistan and the rest of the world?
At the onset of its emergence, medical professionals had claimed that Omicron had the potential of becoming much deadlier than the ruthless Delta variant since it has around 30 mutations on the spike protein as compared to Delta’s 18. However, initial research suggests that while the virus has an increased growth and spread rate, it is less harmful than the Delta variant. Most cases detected in the 38 countries the new variant has spread to are asymptomatic without a single casualty until now. But this could also be because majority of these countries have a high vaccination rate making it less effective and that previous variants have increased overall immunity. Whatever the case, speculations are still premature and Pakistan cannot let its guard down considering its abysmally low vaccination rate. The situation could unfold differently here. The authorities must immediately trace the origins virus in Pakistan by analysing the woman’s travel and contact history. Then relevant people must be tested to ascertain how much the virus has already spread. For this, the government must develop more genome testing centres and take full advantage of the New Variant Assessment Platform programme initiated by the UK.
This is our new reality and our future remains uncertain. Variants could emerge from anywhere and cause immense death and destruction. This time, South Africa had to bear the brunt with countries imposing travel bans. The world community must act in a much more mature manner and devise protocols. Otherwise, countries will be hesitant of providing essential Covid-19 information.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2021.