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Omicron BA.4, BA.5 subvariants being tracked as they spread through Africa and Europe: WHO

BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to be more contagious or deadly than the original omicron mutation so far

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Omicron BA.4, BA.5 subvariants being tracked as they spread through Africa and Europe: WHO
GNN Media: Representational Photo

Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are circulating at low levels in several countries within Southern Africa and Europe, according to the World Health Organization. 

The two subvariants of the highly contagious Covid-19 strain have been detected in Botswana, South Africa, Germany and Denmark, among other countries, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said Thursday.

BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to be more contagious or deadly than the original omicron mutation so far, but that could change as more cases are detected, she added. Van Kerkhove emphasized the need to maintain “robust” genome surveillance systems that will allow countries to track and analyze the two subvariants as well as earlier versions of omicron. 

“It is still early days. What we have to make sure is that we continue to have the ability to track, the ability to share and the ability to analyze so that we can answer questions like this,” Van Kerkhove said during a WHO briefing that was live-streamed on the organization’s social media platforms.

Her remarks come days after the WHO said it was tracking a few dozen cases of BA.4 and BA.5, in addition to earlier omicron variants such as BA.1, BA.2, BA.3 and BA.1.1. 
New wave of cases
It also comes as the more contagious BA.2 subvariant advances across several parts of the world, fueling a new wave of Covid cases after the unprecedented surge caused by the original omicron variant, BA.1, during the winter. BA.2 is now the dominant strain globally. In the U.S., making up about 85% of sequenced new cases and is even more dominant in the northeast region of the country where it represents about 92% of newly sequenced cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The earliest BA.4 sample was collected in South Africa on Jan. 10, but data shows that the “accumulation of genomes” and geographic spread of the subvariant is more recent, according to a report from U.K.’s Health Security Agency released last week. As of April 8, South Africa had reported 41 BA.4 cases, Denmark reported three cases, Botswana reported two and England, as well as Scotland, reported one each. 


“Although the number of total genomes is small, the apparent geographic spread suggests that the variant is transmitting successfully,” the U.K. Health Ministry said in a report.

The report also said there were 27 reported sequences of BA.5 as of April 8, which were all reported in South Africa between Feb. 25 to March 25. But Botswana’s health ministry on Monday said it had identified both BA.4 and BA.5 cases among fully vaccinated individuals aged 30 to 50, Reuters reported. 

The WHO began tracking BA.4 and BA.5 because of they have new mutations “that need to be further studied to understand their impact on immune escape potential,” according to Reuters. 

Both subvariants have additional mutations in the spike region, a part of the virus that is used to invade human cells, and unique mutations outside of that region, according to a WHO report published Wednesday. Such mutations are associated with “potential immune escape characteristics,” the report said.
XE subvariant
Another omicron subvariant scientists are calling XE is also circulating at low levels in a number of countries. 

XE is a “recombinant” variant that occurs when someone is infected with more than one strain that then combine into a new variant. In XE’s case, it’s a combination of the original omicron BA.1 strain and the newer BA.2, according to Van Kerkhove.

“We haven’t seen a change in severity,” she said, meaning it’s not more deadly than earlier strains.

The report from U.K.’s Health Ministry, however, said recent data indicates XE may be more contagious. 

But it noted that the estimate has not remained consistent as new data is added, meaning that “it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of growth advantage for the recombinant.” 

The earliest confirmed case of XE has a specimen date of Jan. 19, and has been detected in the U.K., Thailand, India, Israel and most recently Japan. The U.S. has yet to report a case of the subvariant. 

Cases of the new strain have nearly doubled in Britain, according to the latest data from the U.K. Health Security Agency. About 1,125 cases of XE have been identified as of April 5, which is up from 637 cases on March 25. 

SOURCE: CNBC 

Faisal Ali Ghumman

Mr. Ghumman is a seasoned journalist who has 19 years of diversified experience in print, electronic and digital media. He has worked with 92 News HD, Daily Pakistan Today, Daily The Business, Daily Dawn, Daily Times and Pakistan Observer as News Reporter, Feature Writer, Editor, Web Content Editor and Article Writer. Mr Ghumman has graduated from the Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan and is currently enrolled in M.Phil in Mass Communication at the University of Punjab.

Pakistan

Will not bow before Imran’s dictation: PM Shehbaz Sharif

"If the PTI was merely concerned about the election, they should have come to the parliament."

Published by Siddra Sumreen

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Will not bow before Imran’s dictation: PM Shehbaz Sharif

Islamabad: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Thursday vowed not to bow before the dictations of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan and made it clear that the National Assembly would, not anyone else, would decide the timing of the election.

“I want to make it clear to the head of this gang that none of his dictation will be accepted. This House will decide when to hold fair election,” the prime minister said addressing the National Assembly hours after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan ended his long march here, giving the government a six-day deadline to announce a fresh election.

The prime minister said if the PTI was merely concerned about the election, they should have come to the parliament.

“Imran Niazi should not have any misunderstanding. There are 14 months (to complete the parliament’s term). We are open to talks. Dialogue is the trait of politicians. I can constitute a committee. But, if you think you will pressurize, blackmail or threaten us to leave the government, keep in mind, we will not bow before your pressure or dictation,” he reiterated.  

He accepted that the country was faced with numerous challenges but the coalition government would try its utmost to steer the country out of the issues it had inherited from the previous government.

Lamenting the riots and destruction caused by the participants of the PTI long march, the prime minister said the House should choose between the course of development or destruction.

Drawing a comparison between the economic growth of the two neighboring countries, he said in 1990s India copied Pakistan’s economic strategy and excelled with its IT exports touching $200 billion against $1.5 billion of Pakistan.

He said the protestors who also carried weapons to bring to the federal capital, also damaged infrastructure here and burnt down the trees despite the party claiming to be the champion of 10 Billion Tree Tsunami.

He also condemned the killing of a police constable in Lahore, sympathized with the grieved family and also announced an assistance package for the policemen who were martyred or injured in the line of their duty.

He said instead of showing some compassion to the widow or orphaned children of the martyred police constable, the PTI leader taunted him.

Calling it a 126-day theatre, the prime minister said the PTI’s sit-in in 2014 had not only impacted the national economy but also claimed the lives of the security personnel.

He told the House that the law enforcement agencies showed maximum restraint to control the situation only by using teargas or rubber bullet. The government also called in the army troops to aid the civilian setup, he added.

He also lauded the performance of the Islamabad Police, Rangers, FC, Islamabad Traffic Police and other departments concerned to protect the lives and properties of the people.

The prime minister said the PTI long march, which was led by Imran Khan from Peshawar and accompanied by KPK chief minister, was in fact an attack at the federation which could not be allowed in any civilized society.

The prime minister said after the nation sacrificed thousands of lives and left many others disabled, the slogan of jihad was raised in Peshawar by the PTI.

“Today, the slogans of jihad were raised in Peshawar. Jihad against whom? The nation needs an answer. They used the religion for personal gains which the House should condemn through a resolution to avert the recurrence of such incidents” he commented.

He said despite the dearth of resources, the previous government reduced the oil prices, leaving behind a “landmine” for the incumbent government.   

The prime minister said during the last three and half years, the PTI leadership did nothing to support the poor, closed PKLI, and ended free medical treatment of hepatitis patients.  

“Does it require any more evidence to believe that he is an enemy of Pakistan,” he remarked.

The prime minister also questioned the PTI leader as to why he announced a long march on May 25 despite knowing that it coincided with the sentencing of Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik by an Indian court.

He said the House was unanimous to condemn the sentence to Yasin Malik and shared the grief of his family, besides reiterating Pakistan’s stance to continue supporting the people of Kashmir for their right to self-determination.

He recalled the PTI’s sit-in of 2014 when the institutions including Pakistan Television was attacked and caused the postponement of Chinese President Xi Jinping which also delayed the signing of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor for seven months.

He said the Chinese firm executing Karot Hydropower project had agreed to provide free electricity to the national grid till the finalization of the Commercial Operations Date which would save Rs4 billion to the national kitty.

He said the previous government wasted three and half years in mere attacking the national institutions including the judiciary and hurling allegations ignoring the sufferings of the people.

“How long this drama will continue? How long this disturbed nation will tolerate it,” he questioned adding the country could not afford the history of the 2014 sit-in to be repeated.

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NA passes election amendment bill; scraps electronic voting

Law Minister rejected the impression that the amendment is aimed at depriving overseas Pakistanis of their right to vote.

Published by Mehak Javed

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NA passes election amendment bill; scraps electronic voting

Islamabad: The National Assembly on Thursday passed "The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022" to conduct pilot projects in bye-elections before using I-Voting and Electronic Voting Machines in the general elections.

Speaking on the occasion in the House, the Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar rejected the impression that the amendment is aimed at depriving overseas Pakistanis of their right to vote.

He said overseas Pakistanis are precious asset of the country and the government does not believe in snatching their right to vote.

Regarding use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), the Law Minister said we are not against use of technology, but we have concerns about misuse of technology as Results Transmission System had failed in last general elections to favour a particular political party.

He said the Election Commission of Pakistan had also expressed its inability to hold elections through I-Voting and EVMs in a short span of time and without proper homework.

He said two amendments are being brought to revive the Elections Act 2017, enabling the ECP to ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.

Under the amendment in Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017, the Commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis in bye-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of the Parliament.

Under Amendment in Section 103 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for utilization of EVMs and biometric verification system in the bye-elections.

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Raja Riaz Ahmed has said the Assembly should complete its tenure and elections should be held on time.

Responding to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's remarks, he assured that the opposition will play its positive and constructive role in running affairs of the House.

Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while speaking on the floor of the House, congratulated Raja Riaz Ahmed for becoming Leader of the Opposition.

He assured the Leader of the Opposition of his government's full cooperation in running business of the House in an amicable manner.

The Prime Minister said the treasury benches will pay utmost attention to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition by burying the bad traditions of the past.

Responding to a Calling Attention Notice, Minister of State for Interior, Abdul Rehman Khan Kanju assured the House to make every possible effort for the maintenance of government accommodations in Sector G-6 and F-6 of Islamabad.

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Pakistan and Iran should tap vast scope in bilateral trade, economic cooperation: Bilawal

In meeting with his Iranian counterpart the foreign minister underscores the importance of the earliest completion of border markets to improve livelihood in the border region

Published by Faisal Ali Ghumman

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Pakistan and Iran should tap vast scope in bilateral trade, economic cooperation: Bilawal

Davos: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Thursday emphasized that Pakistan and Iran should tap the existing vast scope in bilateral trade and economic cooperation through various institutional mechanisms and innovative ways to identify new sectors.

The foreign minister, in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Dr. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, reaffirmed Pakistan’s desire to strengthen Pak-Iran fraternal ties in all areas of mutual interest.

He underscored the importance of the earliest completion of border markets to improve livelihood in the border region.

The foreign minister appreciated Iran’s steadfast support for the Kashmir cause, especially at the Supreme Leader level.

Foreign Minister Bilawal also thanked Foreign Minister Abdollahian for sending an Iranian aircraft to Pakistan which helped in extinguishing the forest fire in Balochistan.

In the context of the situation in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari noted that as neighbours, Pakistan and Iran had been closely coordinating.

He underlined that sustained engagement between the international community and the Interim Afghan government was critical to advance shared objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Abdollahian extended an invitation to the foreign minister to undertake a visit to Iran.

SOURCE: APP

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