Pakistan on high alert as caretaker health minister addresses concerns over new omicron sub-variant JN.1.

Caretaker Health Minister Dr Nadeem Jan has affirmed that Pakistan remains free from the new Covid-19 variant JN.1 Omicron but emphasized a heightened state of readiness, declaring “we are on red alert.” This announcement comes in response to the federal government’s decision to procure 500,000 doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine from the US to address the potential global resurgence of the new variant.

The Emergency Operation Centre’s technical advisory group recommended the vaccine acquisition in anticipation of the emerging threat posed by the JN.1 variant. Approximately 200,000 vaccine doses are expected to arrive in the coming week, with the remaining doses to follow in subsequent phases.

Acknowledged as a sub-variant of the Omicron lineage, the JN.1 variant is recognized to be more transmissible than other circulating variants. Despite health experts deeming it less severe, concerns persist about potential complications for high-risk populations, particularly the elderly with compromised immunity.

Speaking before the Senate, the health minister highlighted Pakistan’s vigilant monitoring of the new variant, maintaining a government-wide “red alert” status. Ongoing efforts include the implementation of widespread lab testing systems across different districts, and three advisories have been issued on the matter. The involvement of the Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority in dissemination is also being considered.

Furthermore, the National Institute of Health Sciences Islamabad issued an advisory to provinces detailing the JN.1 variant’s classification as a Variant of Interest by the World Health Organisation. The advisory emphasizes genetic changes impacting transmissibility and disease severity. The government remains focused on proactive measures and communication to address the potential threat posed by the new Omicron sub-variant.