The Union Health Ministry, on November 25, issued an alert for the B.1.1.529 variant of coronavirus, which was detected in South Africa. The ministry directed states and Union Territories (UTs) to ensure “rigorous screening and testing” of all international travellers landing in India from countries that are ‘at risk’.
Confirmed cases of the new variant have been reported from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.
In a letter to all states and UTs, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote, "This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel."
Here are 10 key points you need to know about B.1.1.529 variant of Covid-19
1. South African scientists have confirmed nearly 100 cases of B.1.1.529 but the variant has also been identified in Botswana and Hong Kong. The case identified in Hong Kong is a traveller from South Africa. The variant was first spotted in Botswana and only 10 cases have been confirmed via genomic sequencing so far.
2. “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases said in a statement.
3. South Africa was the first country to detect the Beta variant last year. Beta is one of the only four labelled “of concern” by the WHO because it is comparatively more contagious and COVID-19 vaccines work less well against it.
4. South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla noted it was too early to say that whether the government would impose tougher restrictions in response to the newly discovered variant.
5. Director of Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) Tulio de Oliviera also appealed to billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong and Warren Buffett as well as global institutions like World Bank and IMF to support Africa and South Africa financially in their fight against COVID-19 variants.
6. Australian government has said it is investigating the newly identified variant spreading in South Africa. The government has also warned that it may close borders to travellers from the African nations if risks from the new strain rise.
7. UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid tweeted, “COVID-19 UPDATE: UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow, six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.”
8. Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said B.1.1529 has an “unprecedented” number of mutations in the spike protein and is driving a recent rapid increase in the number of cases in South Africa.
9. UK Health Security Agency has also expressed its concern about the newly identified variant of the novel coronavirus spreading in South Africa that could make vaccination less effective. The agency said this variant has a spike protein that is different from the one in the original coronavirus on which the vaccines are based.
10. The WHO has designated four variants of the novel coronavirus as “variants of concern” – Alpha or the UK variant (B.1.17), Beta or the South African variant (B.1.351), Gamma or the Brazil variant (P.1) and Delta or the Indian variant (B.1.617.2).
(With agency inputs)
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