Pakistan confirms first cases of UK Covid-19 variant


Pakistan on Tuesday confirmed its first cases of the new coronavirus variant recently detected in the United Kingdom (UK).

The Sindh health department, in a tweet, said samples of 12 UK returnees were taken for genotyping, out of which six tested positive, whereas three showed a 95 per cent match with the new variant, and will be sent for a second phase of genotyping.

“Meanwhile the contact tracing of these patients is in process and their contacts are being isolated also,” the provincial health department maintained.

Taking cue from the European Union (EU) and several other countries, Pakistan, on December 21, banned the entry of passengers from the UK into Pakistan in view of the fears over a highly infectious new coronavirus strain in Britain.

A slew of countries closed their borders to Britain on the same day, suspending travel for Britons, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a mutated variant of the virus, up to 70% more transmissible, had been identified in the country.

The decision to ban travel from the UK was taken by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on a day when the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) cancelled all flights to and from Saudi Arabia, after the Saudi authorities suspended all international flights for a week.

On December 25, the Ministry of Health Services clarified that the new variant of coronavirus surfaced in the UK was yet to be detected in Pakistan.

The ministry said that the situation in Pakistan was being closely monitored as all the passengers arriving from the UK were being screened.

The new variant

According to a Reuters report, a new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was spreading rapidly in Britain and prompting high levels of concern among its European neighbours, some of which have cut transport links.

The strain, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge, but is said to be up to 70% more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the United Kingdom.

The new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain in cases of Covid-19 in parts of southern England, and has been linked to an increase in hospitalisation rates, especially in London and in the adjacent county of Kent.

While it was first seen in Britain in September, by the week of Dec. 9 in London, 62% of Covid-19 cases were due to the new variant. That compared to 28% of cases three weeks earlier.

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