- The B.1.1.529 variation has 50 mutations in total, including over 30 on the spike protein alone.
- Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong have all reported cases of the new variant.
- Travelers entering India from “at risk” countries must undergo stringent screening: MoHFW
India asked for strict screening and testing of travellers arriving from South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana, where a novel variant of COVID-19 with several mutations has been detected, resulting in an increase in infections.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan instructed states and union territories in a letter to ensure that samples from travellers who tested positive be forwarded to approved genome sequencing labs as soon as possible. According to Health Ministry specifications, the contacts of these overseas travellers must also be rigorously tracked and examined.
The letter stated, “The NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) has recently stated that several cases of a COVID-19 variant 8.1.1529 have been detected in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases), and Hong Kong (1 case). This variant has been found to have a very high frequency of mutations, which has major public health implications for the country, especially in light of recently relaxed visa restrictions and increased foreign travel.”
“lt is therefore imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries, (they are part of the “at risk” Country Category of international travellers coming to India) and also including all other ‘at risk’ countries indicated in the revised Guidelines for international Arrivals issued by this Ministry dated 11.11.2021, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing, as per Ministry Of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) Guidelines. The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested as per MoHFW guidelines,” it said.
The new COVID-19 strain, which is suspected to have a high number of unknown spike mutations, has been found in South Africa and other countries, with officials there confirming 22 positive cases related with it on Thursday. Since the beginning of the month, the number of daily infections in Africa’s hardest-hit country has surged tenfold.
A virologist at Imperial College London, Dr. Tom Peacock, released information about the new strain known as B.1.1.529 on his Twitter account earlier this week, spurring scientists to weigh in on what is considered a concern variant in the UK, though it has yet to be fully identified.
Scientists throughout the world will be looking for signs that the new strain is gaining traction or spreading more extensively and quickly. The high frequency of spike mutations is problematic in terms of both increased transmissibility and immune evasion.
The WHO stated that it is “closely watching” the reported variant and plans to have a technical meeting on Friday to decide if it is a variant of “interest” or “concern.”