New COVID-19 variant continues to spread in India

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Image credit: 罗 宏志 / 123rf

The new COVID-19 variant continues to spread in India, with the total number of cases reaching 58 following twenty new infections.

The United Kingdom first identified the new COVID-19 variant last year. The variant of the novel coronavirus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – which causes COVID-19 is considered to be more transmissible. As a Lancet report notes, “various modelling exercises have estimated [the new COVID-19 variant] to be up to seventy percent more transmissible than the previously circulating form of the virus.” 

Fortunately, the Lancet report identifies, “according to research…the new variant appears to be no worse than the previous dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in terms of the risk of hospital admission, severity of illness, or mortality.” Nonetheless, the new variant is cause for concern. Many countries, including India, imposed restrictions on travel to and from the United Kingdom in response.

In late December Dr Vinod K. Paul of government think tank Niti Aayog said “we have not detected this mutation [in India]”. This is no longer the case. 

Genome sequencing of positive samples released by the Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (Insacog) laboratories found twenty new cases, taking the total number of cases of the new COVID-19 variant to 58. The period between November 25th and December 23rd witnessed approximately 33,000 people depart airplanes at Indian airports from the United Kingdom. India suspended flights to India from the United Kingdom as of 11.59 p.m. on December 22nd until December 31st.

While the new variant of COVID-19 is alarming, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has assured that “the situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the states for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing and dispatch of samples to Insacog labs.” It has also said that passengers arriving from the United Kingdom “have been kept in single-room isolation in designated health care facilities by respective state governments. 

“Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on.”

India recently became the first country to culture the new COVID-19 variant according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). “India successfully cultures the new viral strain on the horizon (UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2),” the ICMR said in a tweet posted on Saturday. It added “UK-variant of the virus, with all signature changes, is now successfully isolated and cultured at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) from the clinical specimens collected from UK-returnees.” 

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