New Covid variant adds to agonising situation in Punjab

LAHORE: Health authorities in Punjab which is bearing the brunt of Covid deaths and new infections, have detected ‘a novel/unknown variant of the virus’ which is yet to be named.

The virus may be local mutation and the health experts and the researchers have joined heads to expand the scope of investigation as they believe that the novel variant may have high infectivity rate than the previous ones and may ‘lead the province to a new epidemic’ if not curtailed timely.

In a related disturbing development, Punjab continues to investigate the gene-sequencing of the variant and its relevance with existing or previous circulations.

Punjab got first time evidences of presence of South African virus in the province not long ago, an official told Dawn.

He said the South African variant of the coronavirus contained a number of mutations known to be different in nature.

Sharing further details, the official said recently a top health body of United Kingdom (UK) – Public Health England (PHE) – had alerted Islamabad that two Pakistani citizens came from Faisalabad and Sialkot were carrying African virus. He said this development had raised eyebrows of the health experts working on the latest research and sent an alarm about emerging challenges.

Following the UK’s alert, the researchers and health experts joined heads in Punjab to launch an exhaustive work to compile the initial findings/study. The study was carried out at two reference labs where the prime objective of the experts was to find out reasons/factors behind recent massive circulation of the infection.

He said that the number of various kinds of viruses in Punjab reached three after the detection of South African variant as reported by the UK’s top health body.

Out of the total infections in Punjab, the official said, the UK variant was found in most patients in the start of the third wave. He said Punjab’s virologists are investigating whether this new mutation is prime reason behind ongoing sudden surge in mortality and new infections.

The virus, the official confided, could be a mutated form of different variants. Data collection of Pathogenicity and lethality is under way.

In Pakistan, first two waves had virus of Iranian and Chinese origin with 10 per cent cases linked to Western Europe circulation. The current third spike is fast and mostly cases were linked to UK variant.

The official said the detection of another unknown and new variant virus had posed serious threats.

“Unless some final findings are shared we have to observe extreme caution,” the official said.

“We can’t give any name to this variant unless the National Institute of Health (NIH) regional reference lab completes investigations,” the official said. He said the experts/virologists working at a teaching hospital lab had intimated the NIH about the novel variant after the samples results could not match with those already present in Punjab.

The initial study report was also being uploaded on the national and international website in order to make it public for further analysis and investigations, he said.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021

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