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Covid-19 alert: One of dominant strains in China found in sample, says NIH

NIH, AKU confirm presence of XBB, sub-variant of Omicron variant, in Pakistan through genome sequencing

By M Waqar Bhatti
January 03, 2023
A family riding on a bike wear facemasks as a precaution against the coronavirus on October 29 in Karachi. — AFP/File
A family riding on a bike wear facemasks as a precaution against the coronavirus on October 29 in Karachi. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad and Aga Khan University (AKU) have confirmed the presence of XBB, sub-variant of Omicron variant and one of three dominant strains of Covid-19 in China, in the country through genome sequencing. However, the country has not found the traces of highly infectious strain — BF.7. 

Sharing the latest data on the Covid-19, the officials of NIH said that with positivity rate of 0.39 percent, only 12 people were tested positive for Covid-19 in 3,062 tests conducted during the last 24 hours. They added that there were only 11 patients in critical condition across the country while no death occurred in the country in last 24 hours.

“Genomic surveillance is underway at NIH Islamabad. However, due to low positivity, only a few samples are available for sequencing. Our last batch showed increased cases of Omicron XBB,” an official of the NIH Islamabad confirmed to The News on Monday.

NIH officials also reiterate that there is no imminent threat of any major Covid-19 wave in Pakistan. However, we are continuously monitoring the situation and prepared for any situation,” the NIH official added.

On the other hand, scientists at Aga Khan University also confirmed to The News that they had detected and reported the XBB sub-variant of Omicron variant to the authorities in the country but added that they had not yet seen other two sub-variants, including BF.7 in the country.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Faisal Sultan believe that in addition to XBB variant, the highly infectious BF.7 would also be present and circulating in the country as there were no travel restrictions in place to prevent the movement of COVID-19 virus.

Another infectious disease expert from Aga Khan University, Dr Faisal Mehmood also says there is no doubt about the presence of both the XBB and BF.7 variants in Pakistan but claimed that due to mix and match of vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines, people had acquired better immunity as compared to Chinese population.

On the other hand, a senior molecular scientist and professor of pathology at Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Karachi Prof Saeed Khan was of the opinion that BF.7 variant has not yet entered into Pakistan, saying once BF.7 gets into Pakistan, a sharp surge in Covid-19 cases would be seen which would announce its presence in the country.

According to him, BF.7 variant has the ability to evade the natural and artificial immunity against Covid-19 re-infections and it was so much infectious that one person infected with this virus could infect 18 to 20 people.

“Once, we have this variant on our soil, we would see a surge like we saw when original Omicron variant started infecting people in Pakistan. There was a sharp rise in the Covid-19 cases, which is not happening at the moment,” said Prof Khan