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Sindh suspects presence of Omicron variant in Karachi

By M. Waqar Bhatti
December 10, 2021
Sindh suspects presence of Omicron variant in Karachi

KARACHI: The Sindh health department and the Aga Khan University Hospital officials on Thursday announced the detection of ‘strongly-suspected’ case of Omicron variant of Covid-19 in Karachi through variant testing and now they are waiting for its ‘genomic confirmation’ at the AKUH and National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad.

Confirming the development to The News, Dr. Zahra Hasan, Professor of Molecular Pathology at AKUH, said, “We have reported a ‘strongly suspected case’ of Omicron variant of Covid-19 when a 65-year old woman of Karachi with no travel history was found infected with the feared variant.

Now we are waiting for its genomic confirmation, for which whole genome sequencing is being done at the AKUH and NIH.” Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho also issued a video statement confirming that a ‘highly suspected’ case of Omicron virus was detected in 65-year old woman resident of Karachi. The minister said although genomic confirmation was awaited but it was highly likely that Omicron variant has made it to Karachi. Dr. Faisal Mehmood, Infectious Diseases expert at AKUH, while confirming the presence of three key mutations in the spike proteins of coronavirus, said it was extremely probable that the patient was infected with the Omicron virus. “We are currently doing genotyping of all admitted patients with Covid-19. As Omicron is new, the lab has set up a workflow to screen for it before undertaking full sequencing. This includes the presence of three key mutations on the spike. Additionally, three other variants were ruled out making this extremely probable to be Omicron,” he said.

The officials at AKUH said the woman suspected to be infected with Omicron variant had already been discharged from the hospital and added that she had no travel history, which means that perhaps the new variant had already managed to circulate in the community in Karachi.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan told The News that NIH Islamabad had acquired the sample of suspected Omicron variant from AKUH and they would perform the whole genome sequencing of the virus to find out whether it was the feared Omicron variant or not. The “AKUH experts have reported Omicron on the basis of S gene dropout but it could also be any other variant without the S gene. Until it is proven through the whole genome sequencing, we could not call it Omicron,” Dr. Faisal Sultan told this scribe. Similarly, the NIH Islamabad said the sample is not yet confirmed to be Omicron, until the whole genome sequencing on the sample is performed.