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A woman receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Karachi on December 6, 2021. Image Credit: REUTERS

Islamabad: Pakistan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, in the country’s most populous city of Karachi, the country’s National Institute of Health (NIH) said on Monday.

“The NIH has been able to confirm ... that a recently suspected sample from Karachi is indeed the ‘Omicron variant’,” the NIH said in a Tweet. “This is the first confirmed case but continued surveillance of suspected samples is in place to identify the trends.” Authorities in the South Asian nation had begun investigating a first suspected case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus last week, a health ministry official told Reuters on Thursday.

After a provincial official in southern Sindh province initially said the variant had been identified in a private hospital patient, the NIH had then said they were still carrying out sequencing to confirm the case was that of Omicron.

Omicron, first reported in southern Africa and Hong Kong, carries a “very high” risk of infection surges, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Pakistan this month placed travel restrictions on several countries in southern Africa in the wake of the discovery of the variant.

Vaccine efficacy

On Sunday, WHO said the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy but causes less severe symptoms according to early data.

The Delta variant, first identified in India earlier this year, is responsible for most of the world’s coronavirus infections.

The WHO said Omicron had spread to 63 countries as of December 9. Faster transmission was noted in South Africa, where Delta is less prevalent, and in Britain, where Delta is the dominant strain.

But it stressed that a lack of data meant it could not say if Omicron’s rate of transmission was because it was less prone to immune responses, higher transmissibility or a combination of both.

Early evidence suggests Omicron causes “a reduction in vaccine efficacy against infection and transmission”, the WHO said in a technical brief.

“Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs,” it added.

Omicron infections have so far caused “mild” illness or asymptomatic cases, but the WHO said the data was insufficient to establish the variant’s clinical severity.

South Africa reported Omicron to the WHO on November 24. Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer/BioNTech last week said three doses of their jabs were still effective against Omicron.

Countries with sufficient vaccine supplies such as Britain and France have encouraged their populations to receive a third “booster” jab to fight Omicron.