The chief of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Balram Bhargava cautioned on Tuesday against the use of irrational and unscientific therapies to treat COVID-19. Using methods that have not been scientifically established can lead to mutations in the coronavirus by putting unnecessary immune pressure on it, informed Bhargava.
Addressing concerns pertaining to the new strain found in the UK, Bhargava mentioned at a press conference that it is rather normal for respiratory viruses to go through mutations now and then. Having said that, multiple frequent genetic drifts could pose a problem as has happened in the UK. "That is a point of concern. We are carrying out tests in India regularly for those variants," said Bhargava, informing that the new strain is about 60 per cent more transmissible than SARS-CoV-2.
"Immune pressure may be related to the environment, host, treatment or other modalities. So, it is important from the scientific community perspective that we do not put too much immune pressure on the virus," urging doctors and experts alike to ensure there is minimum interference of unscientific endeavours in an attempt to treat the coronavirus.
"We have to maintain judicious use of therapies which are going to benefit. If the benefit is not established, we should not use those therapies. Otherwise, they will put a tremendous immune pressure on the virus and it will tend to mutate more," he added.
There have been queries worldwide as to whether the vaccines being rolled out will be effective against the mutated strain. Responding as per the "data that is available", Bhargava said that "although much of the vaccines that are the front-runners are targeting the S-protein and also the mRNA, we find that they will continue to be effective."
On Tuesday, six arrivals from the UK in India were tested positive for the mutated strain of the coronavirus, informed the Health Ministry.
The ministry informed that genome testing detected the new mutation of the virus in three samples at National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, two at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB in Hyderabad), and one at National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune.
Informing about the measures being appropriated to manage the mutant virus in the country, the ministry said that "comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on. 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."
In light of new infections entering India, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced on Tuesday its plans to extend the suspension of flights beyond December 31 between the two countries. While the ban was enforced starting December 23, arrivals from the UK since November 25 are also to be traced for infections.
As of now, 13 countries besides India have reported incidences of UK-variant of the virus within their boundaries. These are Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.