The detection of new Covid-19 strain in huge numbers in the United Kingdom traced from South Africa raised alarm bells across the health regulatory authorities around the world, with most of the neighbouring countries shutting their borders to the UK and active tracing and isolation of travellers.
Pakistan also followed suit and restricted the flights to UK & barred travellers who had visited the UK recently though some relaxations have now been made or those that have a negative PCR for Covid-19 before boarding on the flight and afterwards too along with 7 days mandatory isolation at designated hotels.
This new variant named VUI-202012/01 is a mutated version of the COVID-19 virus that has been ravaging across the world, mutations are small changes in the structure of a virus that can give the ability to evade the safety net of bodies immune system, though this phenomenon is not new or limited to the covid-19 virus e.g. the influenza virus (seasonal flu) shots released each year are based on three to four versions of the same virus.
The disturbing part regarding this mutant version is that its almost 70 times more transmissible according to Prof. Andrew Hayward of the UK’s NERVTAG. This allows the virus to spread much easier from person to person.
Reassuringly according to the current data this version was found to be no more lethal than the previous one, neither the disease severity nor duration was increased by this variant.
For Pakistan this variant can prove pretty troublesome, a multi pronged strategy is needed to contain this threat, as currently the labs here don’t have the capacity to identify this new variant from the previous one, secondly the current wave has seen a lacklustre response by the Public especially, as well as the Govt. regarding prevention measures and implementation of SOP’s. In this scenario when the old strain of virus has caused considerable burden on health care facilities, the new variant with easier spread will only worsen the situation.
Vaccine manufacturers are till now pretty confident that vaccines will work on this variant too but trial data is awaited. Pakistan is yet to receive any vaccine, even for frontliner’s.
According to the SAPM health Dr Faisal the earliest the vaccine can be expected in Pakistan is march 2021, as the Govt. is still negotiating with the manufacturers and will decide on purchasing the vaccine only after reliable efficacy and safety of a vaccine is proven by third parties. But the biggest bottleneck in procurement might be the cost as First world countries have placed big orders and even paid in advance to get millions of doses for their citizens and few countries including the UK, USA, UAE, China & Russia have already starting vaccinating their population, for the very same reason the CO-VAX facility (of which Pakistan is a signatory & will be relying upon to vaccinate about 20% of its population) by United Nations for free or cheap vaccines for third world countries would not be active till late next year.