Up to 20 people who had recently returned from the UK have been detected to be carrying the mutant strain of the new COVID-19 variant (SARS-CoV-2). The new covid-19 variant has caused a surge of panic across countries with its 70% higher transmission rate. Countries have closed their borders in anticipation of the mutated COVID-19 virus.
New Covid-19 Variant Strain Identified
The Union Minister for Health and Welfare, Rajesh Bhushan, informed that around 5000 genome sequences had been tested across Indian labs. This was prior to the news of discovering the new variant in India. In light of the present scenario, “we’ll be significantly increasing that number and would be working in a coordinated manner”, Bhushan said.
The samples of the new COVID-19 variant tested positive at INSACOG centers across the country. Among these, 8 were in NCDC (Delhi), 7 in NIMHANS (Bangalore), 2 in CCMB (Hyderabad), 1 in NIV (Pune), 1 in IGIB (Delhi), and 1 in NIBG (Kalyani, West Bengal).
A total of 33,000 passengers have traveled back from the UK between November 25th and December 23rd midnight. Among this group, 114 people have been discovered so far to have contracted the regular COVID-19 virus. Further operations are underway to track down more possible cases.
All 20 infected with the novel virus have been isolated along with their close connections. The Union Ministry stated that the people have been confined to single rooms at health care facilities designated by the respective state governments.
Dr. V.K. Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, highlighted the need to exercise caution. “The major population is still susceptible to COVID-19 infection in this cold weather. The UK variant has traveled to several other countries and also to India, this variant may have its own run and we have to very careful. One can’t be careless,” he said.
The suspension of all flights to and from the UK had been announced last week to stop the spread of the novel virus. The central government hinted on 29th December that the suspension date may be extended beyond December 31st.
Hopes against the New Virus
Covaxin, the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech may tackle the new strain. Chairman and managing director Krishna Ella said, “It (coronavirus) is expected to have a lot of mutation and you can be rest assured this vaccine will also protect against that (mutated) virus because of two hypotheses…So you have these two components in the inactivated vaccine. It will also take care of those mutations.”
Covaxin is currently undergoing the phase III clinical trial in India. This COVID-19 vaccine had been developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology.
Nature of the Variant
The new coronavirus strain had been first identified in the UK in mid-September. It was announced as a matter of concern on December 14. The strain has been reported in Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Lebanon, France, Sweden, and Germany among other countries.
The new variant has been found to have 23 changes to its genome. Eight of these changes may influence the spike protein that the virus uses to cling to host cells. The possibilities of infecting vulnerable cells and affecting immune response are currently being investigated.
UK scientists have claimed that the fatality rate of the new variant is not higher than the regular COVID-19 virus. Yet the new strain causes more secondary infections than the older strain.