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Opinion

Infectious strain, but no more deadly: government

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The new variant of the coronavirus is more communicable but does not appear to lead to increased mortality or hospitalization and is unlikely to render the current class of vaccines ineffective, senior Indian government officials said Tuesday, citing information available so far on a mutation that was first seen in the UK and has since sparked global alarm.

Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Niti Aayog (Health) member VK Paul said India has stepped up genomic surveillance to detect if anyone has the new mutation in the country, with a particular focus on people. that arrived from Britain last month. At least 21 people in five cities, including five at the Delhi airport, tested positive for Covid-19 after landing from the UK on Tuesday. Your samples will now be submitted for genomic sequencing.

Clearly, information on the new mutation is still being collected and no conclusions can be reached, either about its effects or its possible resistance to vaccines, at this stage.

“The new strain has 17 changes and one of them, N501Y, is in the area that instructs the spike protein, the part that viruses use to enter cells. Because of this, it seems that the tendency of the strain to enter cells is greater … Does this aggravate the disease? Not seem. It also doesn’t seem to increase the chances of death or hospitalization, ”Paul said.

But, citing data discussions with experts, Paul said the development was worrying and the government is vigilant as the new variant tends to infect more people. Consequently, the government will speed up the genetic sequencing of all virus samples received in the laboratories of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

“Is it cause for panic? No. Is it something we should be watching out for? Certainly, ”he said, adding that current evidence also suggests that the vaccines that have been developed and are being tested are unlikely to become obsolete due to these mutations. “All the vaccines developed so far will also work for this variant.”

The Union government also announced a new set of guidelines for tracking and surveying people who returned from the UK last month, recommending that states quarantine them separately in institutional facilities if any of them show symptoms. All of these symptomatic individuals will be tested and, if positive, the samples will be sent for genetic testing to verify B.1.1.7, the strain found in the UK.

The same genetic sequencing protocol will apply to samples from those who tested positive upon arrival on Tuesday, the last day for flights to and from the UK before an embargo takes effect until December 31. In total, 22 people were found with the virus in five cities: eight (including one crew member) in Amritsar, six in Delhi, four in Ahmedabad, three in Kolkata and one in Chennai. According to the protocol, people who sit in the same row and up to three rows in front of or behind any of the infected patients will be tracked and quarantined with a test 5-10 days later.

Experts said the new variant may already be in India. “The chance that it didn’t make it to India is low,” said Dr. Anurag Agarwal, director of the Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), which is one of the labs that has been sequencing Sars-CoV genomes. -2. He explained that the virus has been found to be more transmissible, but transmission can occur only if people don’t wear masks. If precautions aren’t followed, the new variant can lead to super spread events, he added. “The new variant has probably already arrived in India, you will find it only if you are looking for it. This is why we need to increase the amount of genomic sequencing that we are doing. India has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world and it is likely that some variant like this has also been generated within the country, ”said Dr. Shahid Jameel, virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences of Ashoka University.

Bhushan also spoke about infection trends in India during Tuesday’s briefing. “Countries like the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany are showing new peaks in Covid cases. By comparison, India’s track record has shown a sustained decline in Covid-19 cases since mid-September, ”he said. Bhushan wrote to the civil aviation ministry on Monday, citing recommendations from the group of experts who reviewed information published in the UK.

Experts from the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium said on Saturday that the new variant is significant because it now “accounts for a growing proportion of cases in parts of England”, “it has an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the protein of pico “and mutations” have potential biological effects. ” Soon after, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the variant could be up to 70% more transmittable.

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