ISLAMABAD– The United Kingdom reported the detection of a variant of SARS-COV-2; B.1.1.7, also called VOC-202012/01, earlier this month. Preliminary analysis by their experts suggests that this particular variant may be more transmissible; there is NO evidence so far to suggest that the infection caused by this variant is more severe. This strain has also been detected in other countries.
The Government has taken a number of steps to respond to this development. On the 21st December 2020, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) decided to limit and restrict travel from the UK to Pakistan only to certain categories of travelers and only under strict protocols that mandated a negative PCR test before the flight, a PCR test upon arrival in Pakistan and quarantine as prescribed by the authorities. Moreover, track, trace and quarantine was also initiated for passengers who had arrived from the UK as far as 7 days before the announcement of these travel restrictions. These measures are in place until 4thJanuary 2021.
In addition, viruses detected from individuals coming from the UK are also being evaluated in select laboratories for the presence of this variant. Based on this proactive effort, there are five samples [two at the National Institute of Health and three at the Aga Khan University hospital in Karachi] which may have the variant strain, based on preliminary analysis. These results have to be confirmed through further analysis (whole genome sequencing) which will take a few more days to complete.The NCOC and Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination are following this closely and necessary updates will be provided in due course.