The government on Tuesday confirmed that the new variant of coronavirus has entered the country. According to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) Labs, a total of six UK returnees have been found to be positive with the new UK variant genome-- Three in NIMHANS, Bengaluru; two in CCMB, Hyderabad, and one in NIV, Pune.
Between November 25 and December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK. All these passengers were tracked by officials to find out if any of them have got infected by the new COVID-19 strain or not. So far, only 114 were found positive. Their samples were sent to 10 INSACOG labs (NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad, InSTEM Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi, NCDC Delhi) for genome sequencing.
Until now, six individuals have shown traces of the new variant of coronavirus. All these individuals have been kept under 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.
What exactly is the new virus strain?
The new virus strain is a result of the N501Y mutation. In this mutation, the amino acid represented by the letter N, and present at position 501 in the coronavirus genetic structure, is replaced with another amino acid, called Y. This alteration has happened in the spike of protein's receptor-binding domain. It is the spike protein of the virus that binds with the human receptor. Therefore, the mutation has increased the binding affinity of the coronavirus.
Is a new strain dangerous?
According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant has been predicted to be more transmissible than the usual strain of SARS-CoV-2. The mutant, which first showed its presence in the UK, was responsible for 60 per cent of new infections in London. The new variant also has the ability to evade detection by specific diagnostic tests, CDC added.
What does presence of a new strain in India mean?
So far, only six cases have been reported in the country related to the new COVID-19 strain. If the numbers go up then it might become a point of concern. Currently, India has witnessed a significant decline in its daily COVID-19 cases. For the past three days, the cases have shrunk to below 20,000-level.
Who's getting infected the most with this strain?
The World Health Organisation said that the new strain has largely been identified among people under 60 years of age.
Will vaccines work against this new strain?
So far, every premier medical organisation, several scientists, and experts have unanimously claimed that all the vaccines will easily work against the new strain. Experts have not found any reason to suggest that the new mutation would affect the vaccination yet. Experts said that only a spike of protein has mutated, so the vaccines should still work.
Yesterday, the head of AstraZeneca Pascal Sorio said that the vaccine shot will be effective against the new coronavirus strain.