By Sardar Khan Niazi
Millions around the world welcomed a new year in the shadow of the Coronavirus Pandemic, which has so far killed millions of people, with festivities reduced or canceled in many countries. The new wave of the Covid-19 virus, fueled by the Omicron variant, is spreading rapidly in Pakistan.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan has warned of the possibility that the public health system may come under considerable stress. He has advised provinces to arrange the availability of ample oxygen to deal with any such situation.
Asad Umar, the planning and development minister has also warned about the rise in the number of Omicron cases and urged the public to get a vaccination to reduce the possible impact of Omicron.
The world accepts that Pakistan is acting sensibly in handling the situation created by the Covid-19 and it moved quickly on reports about the spread of the new Omicron variant in South Africa in mid-November 2020.
Pakistan has done well by tightening the Covid-related protocols for the passengers coming in from abroad as the surge in the number of new coronavirus cases continues in different parts of the country.
The government placed a ban on November 27 on travel from six African countries — South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia — and Hong Kong in the wake of the variant’s discovery.
This travel ban was later extended to nine more countries — Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland, and Zimbabwe.
Moreover, the National Command and Operating Centre placed 13 countries comprising United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, France, Austria, Afghanistan, and Turkey in category B.
All passengers from these countries need full vaccination, while everyone above the age of six must possess a negative PCR test report issued not more than 48 hours before boarding.
Nonetheless, notwithstanding travel bans imposed by some countries, the new virus has not only reached the country but is spreading at a fast pace requiring additional measures on the part of all concerned.
According to the data released by the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), Pakistan reported more than 700 cases of Covid-19 in a single day, the highest tally since October 24, 2020.
Against this background, the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority to make Covid-19 vaccination and possession of proof of Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all passengers above 15 years of age is a step in the right direction.
Likewise, valid negative PCR test results conducted within the 48 hours prior to commencement of travel to Pakistan are also required for all passengers above six years.
The travelers coming from European countries would be required to take a Rapid Antigen Test upon arrival in Pakistan, while half of those on board flights from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would be required to take the Rapid Antigen Test.
Despite resource constraints, Pakistan’s immunization program is moving ahead successfully. The country has been able to inoculate 32% of the population and recently approved a booster shot for elderly people.
The WHO chief is optimistic that the Covid-19 virus would die down by the end of the year provided all countries make collective efforts.
On the vaccination front, Pakistan has done quite well. Against the end-of-the-year target of fully vaccinating 70 million people, until today more than 68.5m have had full vaccination. In the given context, it is quite a remarkable achievement.
People can save themselves from Omicron by getting full vaccination, following SOPs, i.e. wearing masks, keeping a safe physical distance from others, evading needless social mingling particularly indoors, when in closed places keeping them ventilated, and ensuring hand sanitization.