Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani health authorities have confirmed the detection of the country’s first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, a week after the South Asian country expanded travel restrictions in an attempt to slow its spread.
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) confirmed the detection of the Omicron variant, which is suspected to have higher transmissibility rates than other variants, in a Twitter post on Monday.
“The National Institute of Health, Islamabad has been able to confirm that a recently suspected sample from Karachi is indeed the ‘Omicron variant’ of SARS-CoV2,” said the statement.
“This is the first confirmed case but continued surveillance of identified samples is in place to identify trends.”
Last week, the provincial health minister in southern Sindh province identified a suspected case of the new strain in an unvaccinated person.
“The virus also spreads because people are not vaccinated, and this lady, too, was not vaccinated,” said Dr Azra Pechucho, the minister, in a statement last week.
“This is why I would request that you must get your second dose if you haven’t [gotten it] and if you have had both doses and it has been six months, then definitely get your booster dose today. This can save you.”
There is currently no peer-reviewed evidence or data available on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness against the Omicron variant, although studies are ongoing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
According to the WHO, the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 63 countries around the world. It was first detected in samples in Southern Africa, but has since also been seen across Europe and elsewhere.
The WHO says the Omicron variant appears to have a “growth advantage” over the Delta variant, which was previously the fastest spreading “variant of concern” of the virus.
Studies are also ongoing regarding the severity of disease caused by the new strain, the WHO has said.
“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” said a WHO statement released on Friday.
“While preliminary findings from South Africa suggest it may be less severe than Delta, and all cases reported in [Europe] to date have been mild or asymptomatic, it remains unclear to what extent Omicron may be inherently less virulent.”
Compared with many countries around the world, Pakistan has had a relatively mild experience of the coronavirus pandemic so far, although concerns remain about the country’s public health infrastructure if there were to be a sustained surge in cases.
On Monday, active cases remained at close to all-time low numbers, with 9,048 such cases and 731 patients in critical care, according to government data.
The number of tests in Pakistan has remained relatively low compared with the size of the country’s 207 million population. On Sunday, there were 39,387 tests conducted, with a test-positive rate of 0.62 percent, according to government data.
The test-positive rate is a measure of how many tests per hundred come back with positive results.
Last week, Pakistan expanded travel restrictions to include an almost complete ban on inbound travel from 15 countries, including the Netherlands, Croatia, Hungary, Ukraine, South Africa, Zimbabwe and several others.
Global concern over the spread of the highly mutated variant has grown since it was first designated a variant of concern by the WHO in late November, resulting in increased travel restrictions and curbs on social and economic activities around the world.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.