Pakistan Confirms Four Cases of JN.1, a Variant of Interest of Omicron

Pakistan has confirmed the presence of JN.1, a new sub-variant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19, in four people who arrived in the country from abroad. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified JN.1 as a Variant of Interest (VoI) due to its rapidly increasing spread and potential to evade immunity.

The four affected people tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival and were sent for genome sequencing, which revealed that they were infected with JN.1. According to the health authorities, they had mild symptoms and recovered on their own without requiring hospitalisation.

JN.1 is a descendant of the Pirola variant (BA.2.86), which emerged during the summer of 2023 and had more than 30 mutations compared to the original Omicron variant. JN.1 has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which may enhance its infectivity and ability to escape the immune system.

JN.1 has been detected in several countries around the world, including India, China, UK and the United States. It is currently the fastest-growing variant in the US, accounting for 15-29% of infections, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In the UK, it makes up around 7% of positive COVID tests analysed in a lab.

The health authorities in Pakistan have started mandatory testing of 2% of the inbound passengers for COVID-19 and sending the samples for genome sequencing to detect JN.1 and other variants. They have also increased the surveillance and screening at the airports and border crossings to prevent the importation and spread of the new sub-variant.

Caretaker Federal Health Minister Dr Nadeem Jan said that there was no need to panic as 90% of the Pakistani population was vaccinated against COVID-19 and the vaccines were expected to offer protection against JN.1. He said that the border health services authorities were vigilant and active as per international health regulations.

He urged the people to adopt preventive measures and use masks, wash hands frequently with soap or use hand sanitisers and adopt social distancing to prevent themselves from flu and other respiratory illnesses including COVID-19. He also advised the people to get their booster shots as soon as possible to boost their immunity.

He said that the government was closely monitoring the situation and would take appropriate measures if needed. He said that the health ministry was in contact with the WHO and other international partners to share information and learn from their experiences.

He said that Pakistan was ready to host the Global Health Security Summit 2024 from Jan 10, which would bring together health experts and leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the fight against COVID-19 and other pandemics. He said that Pakistan would showcase its achievements and best practices in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and learn from the experiences of other countries.

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