- NCOC head Asad Umar says emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens aged 12 years and over
Pakistan's Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Asad Umar announced on Saturday that a notification has been issued to restrict travel from six southern African nations and Hong Kong after the emergence of a new heavily-mutated Covid-19 variant, Omicron, which was identified in South Africa earlier this week.
In a Twitter post, Asad, also the head of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) that issues Covid-related guidelines, said: "The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older."
The southern African countries include South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.
The variant -- which has a large number of mutations -- was first detected on November 9, reported AFP.
Scientists are racing to understand how it behaves, but there are fears the strain may be more transmissible or render existing vaccines less effective.
The discovery of the new coronavirus variant triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from a number of countries in southern Africa and stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the new variant, which it named Omicron, may spread more quickly than other variants of Covid-19 and preliminary evidence suggested there is an increased risk of reinfection.
"We have notified airlines and these countries," WHO representatives said, adding that travellers from other African countries will not be allowed to use the country's quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated travellers.
Epidemiologists warned travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally.
The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong.