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Opinion

Covid-19: what you need to know today

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In India, six cases of Covid-19 caused by Sars-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 (or B.1.1.7, as some call it) have been diagnosed. All six are patients who flew in from the UK over the past week, who tested positive for the virus, and whose samples were then sent for genome sequencing that confirmed the presence of the mutant strain (has up to 23 mutations) of the coronavirus. which was first sequenced in the UK in September. This should come as no surprise (over the past week, I have repeatedly emphasized that there is a high probability that the variant is already in India). The new strain is predominant in the UK, especially London; 70 weekly flights have been flown from the UK to India since May; and until last Monday, when it got tougher, the screening process for passengers arriving in India was a sham (it had started well, but over time it came to rely more on documentation and self-declaration and less on inspection itself.).

The identification of the new strain here should prompt the Indian health authorities to aggressively track all those who traveled to India from the UK in the last month (at least). Some of them may be asymptomatic carriers who have transmitted the virus to others. The contact tracing process is hampered by human stupidity: at least some of the people who have traveled to India from the UK have reportedly provided fake addresses or phone numbers; Some recent travelers are believed to keep their phones turned off so they cannot be reached (see page 11). This is behavior that is potentially harmful not only to themselves and the people in their immediate vicinity (friends and family), but to the general public.

Dispatch 233, on December 28, explained that UK researchers have found the new strain to be 56% more infectious than the old one. It is not known whether the mutant strain causes more severe cases of Covid-19 or results in more deaths, but this is actually irrelevant. The mere fact that the variant is more infectious is enough: this logically means more cases of the coronavirus disease. Even assuming that the rate of hospitalizations and deaths does not change at all for the new variant (and is exactly the same as for Sars-CoV-2), the higher number of cases (caused by the higher infectivity of the variant) will mean more hospitalizations. and more deaths. And even assuming that the proportion of hospitalizations that turn into serious cases remains constant, it means an increase in the number of serious cases. In fact, because higher infectivity means more infections, which means even more infections, and so on, in a classic exponential progression, the new strain leads to a scenario that results in more deaths than even an increase in the rate. of lethality. That’s all the more reason for health authorities here to track and isolate, something that most states have become quite neglected with, with the number of new cases declining daily. India ended Monday with about 270,000 active cases, according to HT’s panel (the United States has 7.7 million).

India is the 21st country to have identified the new variant of the virus. The others are: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, Canada, Lebanon, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. There is another strain that shares some characteristics of B.1.1.7 that has been identified in South Africa and Nigeria. Over the course of the last week of the year, more countries will identify the UK strain in people who test positive, just as India itself will see more cases caused by the new strain. It is a year-end challenge that the country must negotiate carefully.

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