Pakistan braces itself as Omicron spreads amid low vaccination rates

 Health authorities in Pakistan say they are bracing UP for a possible fifth wave of coronavirus infections as cases of the Omicron variant increase.

“We fear that a fifth wave of the pandemic may hit in a few weeks,’’ Qaiser Sajjad, the secretary-general for the Pakistan Medical Association, told dpa on Wednesday.

Sajjad blamed a combination of vaccine hesitancy and the mass violation of coronavirus-related restrictions, particularly regarding face masks, for the potential new wave in Pakistan.

“We are prepared to deal with a new wave, but at present, there is neither surge of new cases nor pressure on hospitals,’’ special assistant to the prime minister on health services, Faisal Sultan, told dpa.

Sultan added that “although there were fears of a new wave, we have not witnessed an alarming rise of cases dominated by the Omicron variant’’.

He called on people to wear face masks and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Pakistan reported its first case of Omicron on Dec. 13 and by Tuesday the number had reached 79.

Life has returned to normal after the fourth wave of the pandemic subsided last month.

However, authorities have tightened travel restrictions to avoid a new surge.

At least six deaths and 378 new cases were reported during the last 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

The country has so far recorded 1,294,379 cases and 28,918 COVID-related deaths in total.

Pakistan has administered more than 153 million vaccine doses since its immunisation drive began in February.

However, with a population of 220 million, this translates to less than 30 per cent of the total population. (dpa/NAN)